[Ed.: part of what promises to be a series orienting people unfamiliar with lacrosse to the sport.]
Courtesy of Insidelacrosse.com.
(We now have the best helmets in three sports. Also: Maize uniform rage spreads to two sports)
I’ve started this diary to help introduce Michigan fans to lacrosse and to explain what’s going on both on the field and off as best I can. Since there are no games to recap and I don’t have any video of this past season to break down, I figured it was best to begin with an investigation of Michigan’s roster and how much overhaul and time would be needed before the team became competitive.
There has been a lot of chatter in the message boards and perhaps some diary entries for the past year speculating how Michigan’s 3x MCLA National Champion lacrosse team would fair at the varsity level. Some have argued that Michigan will need a minimal level of roster overhaul or change in recruiting strategies in order to be competitive both within their conference and nationally, particularly in light of the fact that Brother Rice High School won the Inside Lacrosse High School National Championship in 2008, and that the general University student body is already heavily composed of kids from the East coast.
I’ve broken this introduction into four parts:
Part I of this Introduction to Recruiting will compare and contrast lacrosse recruiting to other sports.
Part II will attempt to compare how Michigan’s roster compares to the dominant programs in Division 1, in order to see what recruiting changes are necessary to compete for a national title
Part III will compare Michigan’s roster to its conference foes in the ECAC to see how long it will be before they compete for conference championships and NCAA bids
Part IV will look at two other new Division 1 programs to see if their experience gives us any indication into how long it will take for Michigan to become nationally competitive.
An Introduction to Lacrosse Recruiting
In terms of what coaches are looking for, it’s pretty straightforward. First, college coaches are looking for a player that has the proper size and speed. If you are a defensemen at a top level program, you are probably going to be around 6’2”-6’3” and roughly 220 lbs, a top level midfielder is 6’0”-6’1” and around 190 lbs, and attack can vary anywhere from 5’10” 190 lbs to 6’2” 215 lbs. In terms of speed, you are looking for players that run in the 4.5-4.6 range in the 40. Max Seibald, former Cornell midfielder and 2010 Tewaaraton Trophy winner (lacrosse’s version of the Heisman or Hobey Baker) recently clocked the same time in the 40 yard dash as Percy Harvin (sub 4.4), so lacrosse is increasingly bringing in top-level athletes (not just guys too slow or uncoordinated for football, etc).
The last element that factors into the scholarship equation is stick skills. Coaches vary widely in how interested they are in a players stick skills. Some coaches love to take athletic guys that were great at multiple sports and true athletes—particularly Dom Starsia at Virginia and John Desko at Syracuse—and trust their own ability to teach stick skills. Other coaches want “lacrosse players” that have the stick skills to immediately contribute the moment they set foot on campus. These players won’t be ranked in the Inside Lacrosse Young Guns list (Top 100 high school players in a graduating class, their version of Rivals 250, etc), but coaches hope they will turn into something special as upper classmen. Normally, only the most successful programs have the luxury of taking a risk on this type of player since they know they have 5-6 instant contributors already in their recruiting class.
Lacrosse recruiting is also in a state of flux right now—for years it operated under the radar due to minimal participation in the sport and neglect from television and print media. As the sport has grown in the past 15 years, and as ESPN and CBS have steadily increased the number of games on television, more people are starting to chart and follow high school players and their recruitment. Overall, lacrosse recruiting is a hybrid to what we are familiar with from football, basketball and hockey.
Similarities to Football
At its core, lacrosse recruiting is still most similar to football recruiting. To begin with, what matters most is your performance with your high school team. How you perform on tape or in person during your high school season is still the single most important element in getting recruited—college coaches want to see you how you play in settled offense, settled defense, transition, special teams, when a defense is focused on one player, etc. The only time you really see teams scheme is during the high school season, so it’s the most realistic chance for college coaches to see how players will translate to the college level.
It is also similar to football in the importance that the camps most major schools host during the summer play in recruiting. Colleges host team and individual camps, and like football, they provide the opportunity for coaches to get a player on campus and to see how they play in person. It’s a chance for the college to get an accurate height and weight, to see how fast the player is both with and without the ball, and to meet the player in order to get a feel for how they will fit into your locker room. As well, there is an Under Armor All America lacrosse game (one for juniors and one for seniors), and the team is selected through a series of combines like the UA or Army All America games in football.
Finally, lacrosse is similar to football in the sense that location matters a great deal. Just like Florida, Texas, California and Ohio/Pennsylvania are the four major hotbeds in terms of producing high-level football talent, the same is true for Baltimore/Washington DC, Long Island, and Upstate New York (you can also start making a very strong argument for including New Jersey and Philadelphia on the list). Like football, you can find talent in other places, but it is impossible to match the density of top quality athletes and high-level coaching of these areas. The players coming out of these 3-4 areas grew up with a stick in their hand, went to high schools where the most athletic kids in the school played lacrosse, and had coaches that treated them like low-level college players from the time they were 14 years old. If you want players who will contribute immediately and a team that will compete for national titles, conventional wisdom says you have to recruit heavily out of these areas (Part II will examine whether this is myth or reality). Players from outside the hotbed areas tend to be recruited as the proverbial “athletes” since they do not have the stick skills to immediately contribute or a natural position on the field.
Similarities to Basketball
Now that you feel like lacrosse recruiting is incredibly familiar and easy to grasp, let’s complicate it by adding elements of basketball. If you follow basketball recruiting, there are two similarities between lacrosse and basketball.
First, club teams and programs are a big deal in lacrosse recruiting. While this seems like a contradiction to primacy of high school tape in recruiting I wrote above, club teams are essential in getting your name on a coach’s watch list. Most college teams have little to no budget to travel during the season, let alone does a team that has 1 head coach, 2 assistants and 1-2 graduate assistants have the man power to travel during the season. Consequently, if a coach is going to see you live, it’s going to be in the summer or fall when you’re playing for a club team. If you want to be noticed by a coach, particularly if you are not from one of those lacrosse hotbed areas (or you are in a hotbed, but on a high school team so stacked that you won’t see the field until your senior year), your club team and the tournaments they qualify matter. Once they know your name after seeing you in a summer tournament, then they’ll start watching your high school tape Playing for major club programs like the Blue Crabs (out of Baltimore) or the Long Island Express is often the first step towards a D1 offer. Club teams are so important that Inside Lacrosse Magazine now ranks the top club programs in the nation at the end of every summer.
The second similarity to basketball is the recruiting timeline for a top player and the top programs. If you are a Top 100 Young Gun, you will probably start collecting scholarship offers during your sophomore year and will commit sometime before the start of your junior season. Johns Hopkins, one of the top programs historically, just received its third commitment for the Class of 2013. Obviously the majority of players still commit around their senior year and the majority of teams do not fill up their classes early, but if you want to land a Top 25 player odds are you will need to lock in a commit 2-3 years before he sets foot on campus. I hate this aspect of the game and think it has the potential to lead to very dirty tactics if the sports exposure and TV money continue to grow, but that’s where the game is right now.
Similarities to Ice Hockey
Now time to really complicate the issue. Lacrosse is a suburban sport, so the top players tend to come from school districts and families that are more affluent on average than a typical BCS-level football or basketball recruit. It’s a sport that requires a lot of equipment and travel, so like hockey it tends to attract more affluent families. This means players in this sport have options that a lot of top level football and basketball recruits do not. On top of that, the sport is still small so that if you want to play on a top high school team, you only have a few options. This means that you could be a stud attackman at Garden City high school on Long Island and be talented enough to be ranked in the Top 100 nationally for your high school class, but you could never see the field until your junior or senior year because there are 3 other attackman in the Top 100 in the class above you on your team. Coaches won’t see you and recruitniks will forget about you.
So what’s a player to do—they are outstanding, but can’t get the playing time to warrant a scholarship offer from a D1 school. What many players will choose to do is to go to a boarding school for a year or two. Some players will do a post-graduate year after graduating from high school, some will repeat their junior year and stay at boarding school for two years, and some will repeat freshmen year and stay at the boarding school for four years. So, like ice hockey, you may gain a commitment from a kid that appears to be a year too old for their recruiting class. Sometimes a team will also ask a player to take a PG year, either to grow or because they will have more room in the following year’s recruiting class.
This route has proven to be a great way for kids to get more exposure and for school to find the “diamond in the rough” in their recruiting classes. Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Salisbury School in Connecticut are national powers at the high school level in large part because of the contributions of PG players, and 2011 Tewaaraton Finalist Rob Pannell and 2011 All-American Billy Bitter are both products of a PG year.
I hope this helps illuminate the process of lacrosse recruiting for everyone. I know this post does not have a lot to do with Michigan specifically, but I wanted to make sure we are all on the same page with how the recruiting process works with lacrosse. It’s obviously going to take Michigan some time to fill their roster with high level talent, considering they are already missing out on some key rising juniors who have committed already.