No. 6 Senior Brian Willetts’ Change Of Heart From UNC To Notre Dame A Reminder Of What Recruiting Will Soon Become

photoDuring the last few years, recruiting hasn’t only become more accelerated.

If anything, it has intensified.

Though that was already apparent, No. 6 senior Brian Willetts’ decommitment from the Tar Heels on Sunday and subsequent pledge to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish solidifies the notion that the world of recruiting is ever-changing and increasingly ruthless.

The Smithtown East (N.Y.) attackman, an intimidating (6’3, 200 pounds) and hard-shooting presence for the defending Suffolk County champions, will go the PG route before heading to South Bend in August of 2016. A visit to the campus during the first weekend of October for the Fighting Irish’s football game against Stanford ultimately led to a commitment to the Fighting Irish  a few weeks later, shortly after he decommitted from Joe Breschi’s program this past weekend.
After receiving a call from Notre Dame in July – initially turning down the interest for the most part but continuing to listen to what the staff had to say, according to Willetts – the offer and experience were too good to turn down, even despite his long-standing commitment to North Carolina.

“Notre Dame provides a lot in many different aspects – in particular, their business school is phenomenal and that’s what I want to pursue,” Willetts said during a phone call on Thursday morning. “It’s rigorous academically and I want to be fully ready for what’s ahead because I understand how challenging it is, both on the field and off.”

Willetts’ game was already close to being ACC ready – he put up 60 goals and 33 assists battling heavy attention in arguably the nation’s toughest public school league. However, an extra year of academic, athletic and personal growth will benefit him tremendously.

There will be many advantages to the Long Island product undergoing a postgraduate year up in New England. With time-consuming commitments to football, basketball and lacrosse all four years of his career for the Bulls, it will help the scorer being able to focus on schoolwork and lacrosse just as he will at ND. In addition, Willetts will be able to prepare himself physically for the next level.

“I’ve always been a three-sport athlete just going, going, going all of the time and never really got much of a chance to get in the weight room to improve my speed and strength,” Willetts says. “Another year to get my body bigger, faster and stronger will really do a whole lot for me.”

This whole situation further brings to light several interesting trends that have become rampant in the sport.

First and foremost, the postgrad year has popped up specifically in the last decade as a stepping stone for Division I-bound lacrosse players. Touted players like Rob Pannell (a Smithtown native), Billy Bitter, Myles Jones and Christian Walsh have all PG’ed before heading to college, taking their skill set to another level after brilliant high school careers. Dozens of recruits have even decided years in advance to postgrad, whether that’s decided by the family or suggested by college programs. Look through the rankings and commitment lists and you’ll find a solid amount of players who have “committed” to postgrad years.

Also, coaches recruiting other schools’ commitments are trends that the sport will see increase at a high rate, discussed at length in a piece with Paul Carcaterra earlier this month. It’s already started to happen in the last year or so, now it’s a common occurence. Division I coaching jobs are high pressure gigs, so that means doing anything necessary (within the rules, of course) to bring elite talent to campus.

Another hot topic in early recruiting has become particularly intriguing as freshman and sophomore commitments quickly approach the 200-mark between the two grades.

The bottom line: what a kid wants as a high school freshman may not be what he wants as a senior. Kids are naturally indecisive, outside influence is heavy and teenagers constantly change and develop.

In Willetts’ case, he made the decision as a 14-year-old rising sophomore, coming off a spring season in which he dazzled as a freshman starter and selected the Tar Heels over Maryland and other Big 10 programs. He was one of the first three players in the entire class to make a commitment.

“So many kids are making decisions that were considered best at the time but might not be the best in the future, however you can’t blame a kid for committing early because of a great opportunity,” Willetts says of the recruiting process. “In general and not only in my case, I don’t think you can blame a kid for decommitting when he’s making the right decision for his future and keeping his best interests in mind.”

Willetts was one of the first to be recruited while committed before ultimately flipping to another program.

Elsewhere, it’s inevitable and it’s happening. Anticipate many more switches going forward.

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