Combining the enhanced significance of the November recruiting circuit for 2018’s with the increased presence of winter prospect days on campuses, December through February is now a huge time for freshman verbals. Kids are now narrowing down their options, visiting schools left and right and hoping to decide before they become entrenched with tryouts and the spring lacrosse season.
Call it crazy, over-covered by the media or premature but freshman recruiting is reality and we must all deal with it. Schools feel confident enough in their scouting to make decisions on recruits, some even getting close to filling up their entire class (cough, cough, Hop) barely into the New Year.
As I mentioned in an article heading into my recent vacation, there will be a lot of changes and goals regarding Recruiting Rundown in 2015. Rather than posting Q&A’s for recruits, they will be more analytical, throwing in coaches’ quotes, player quotes, video and my own evaluations. Below, you’ll find a recap of the eight freshman verbals over the last six weeks, listed in order of commitment date.
SweetLax’s Joe Neuman (F/O – Walt Whitman, N.Y.) to Hopkins
Most of the elite programs in the country wanted the pure technician who stands just 5-foot-5 and 150 pounds but won the Philly Freshman Showcase King of the X crown in late November. By then, he had a top three of Notre Dame, Hopkins and North Carolina, also visiting Duke, Ohio State, Syracuse, Maryland, Loyola and Bucknell. Visiting the Homewood campus on October 11th, the Blue Jays won out in the long run, as the Suffolk County native cited education, tradition, distance from home and the coaching staff as main factors.
“It was a really hard decision, but I did like that it was four hours away compared to 12 and 15 and I’d love to have my family come support me at my games,” said Neuman, who is trained by face-off wizard Matt Schomburg of FOGOlax, in our interview in mid-December. “Overall, Hopkins was a great fit and was all positives – I couldn’t come up with one negative. It would be unbelievable to play for a historic lacrosse program like that, especially on Memorial Day weekend.”
His dominant performance at Nike Blue Chip put him in front of many college coaches last summer, following that up with multiple A-grade performances with the LI Outlaws and SweetLax. This fall, Neuman won at the very least three quarters of the draws he took, outworking his counterparts and using his low-to-the-ground frame to his advantage. Take a look at all of the battle scars on his maroon Cascade helmet and you’ll see how hard-nosed and blue collar this freshman is, taking on all comers and possessing the type of competitive mind set that FOGOs should have.
Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing how the young Neuman fares this spring in Suffolk ‘A’, considered the best public school league in the country. He’ll have schools like Smithtown East, Northport and West Islip on the schedule. After that, it’s a loaded summer docket with Kevin Martin’s SweetLax squad.
Duke’s/Big 4’s Devin Gilligan (D – Shipley School, Pa.) to Michigan
This lefty is a player who popped on my radar in a major way after the fall he put together, receiving a ton of noteworthy interest after a rain-drenched Terrapin Classic then earned mentions Quaker Fest and Big 4 Champion’s League. A lot of the freshmen defensemen that go off the board usually possess Division I-ready size and Gilligan is no different, standing 6-foot-2 with long arms and superb footwork. He’ll take occasional runs at LSM and can thrive there, however Devin is probably best when guarding attackmen around GLE, using his range and active stick to torment the opponents big and small. Playing at a lesser known school, I’d imagine that he’ll receive a great amount of playing time and against strong competition week to week.
Also receiving fall interest from well known programs like Syracuse, Harvard, Princeton and Ohio State (among others), Gilligan visited just Penn State, Lehigh and Notre Dame before choosing the Wolverines. His campus visit to Ann Arbor let him know for sure that John Paul’s emergent Big 10 program would be his future college destination.
“I chose Michigan because of the tradition and the atmosphere,” Gilligan says. “None of the other schools that I visited had the same atmosphere and feel as Michigan. The visit was the deciding factor for me.”
Leading Edge’s Patrick McIlroy (D – Westfield, N.J.) to Denver
Considering that his older brother, Matt ’16, is headed to the Pioneers after he graduates, this commitment wasn’t a tremendous surprise. He’ll benefit from watching and learning from his brother over the next few years, which always bodes well for young players with high aspirations. It seems that the Pioneers are getting some really nice D guys from the Garden State – another Leading Edge and Westfield HS defenseman, Kyle Dombroski ’17, committed to Tierney & Co. last Tuesday evening.
The younger McIlroy is a talented playmaker, boasting an excellent stick and an even better lacrosse IQ and understanding of the defense. He needs to grow a few inches but is a strong prospect largely based on his instincts and hustle, constantly picking off passes or collecting key groundballs. Between him and one of the more coveted ’18 freshmen, Arizona native Mark Rakowski (Lawrenceville School, N.J.), Leading Edge has one of the best defensive units, throwing in lights out stoppers Will Vitton (Summit HS) and Michael Harris (Ridge HS) in cage.
Team 91’s Michael Gomez (D – Half Hollow Hills East, N.Y.) to Hopkins
In many ways, Gomez is a prototypical Long Island defenseman: he’s fundamentally sound, communicates extremely well and is generally a nuisance, staying on the opponent’s hands and making his presence felt with a big hit or two. Fittingly, he’s committed to play for Dave Pietramala – who hails from Hicksville and is one of the best defensemen of all time, reputable for many of those same qualities during his playing days. Many D guys feel that playing under Petro was a major selling point during the process.
“I chose Hopkins because of the great combination of lacrosse and academics,” said Gomez soon after he pulled the trigger. “Also, they have a great tradition, and I couldn’t think of a better coach to learn from than Coach Pietramala.”
His 1-on-1 prowess and unmatched physicality garnered him a ton of looks between the fall and summer, where he plays for a Team 91 group that can be considered the best club team in the 2018 class at the moment. He’s a really nice fit for Hopkins, picking the Blue Jays over many of the ACC and Big 10 powers, Georgetown, Princeton and Loyola. In the future, I’d like to see him work closely with No. 46 junior Nick DiPietro (Syracuse), another promising cover man at Hills East.
Duke’s/Big 4’s Kevin Vandegrift (M – Academy of the New Church) to St. Joseph’s
A ton of people were shocked when St. Joseph’s – a school that doesn’t have a recorded 2017 pledge – took a verbal from a freshman. However, it makes a ton of sense for coach Taylor Wray, who currently has sophomore Ray Vandegrift on the Hawks’ roster in addition to James, a junior commit to SJU. Kevin, one of 12 children and nine boys in his family, is an underrated player that has ideal size (5’11, 175) for his age. The Big 4 midfield was loaded this fall but Vandegrift kept making plays and showing excellent consistency. His club coach, Billy McKinney, speaks highly of the skill set for the hard-dodging, throwback midfielder.
“There aren’t many players that have the ability to score from 13-14 yards on elite goalies, and Kevin is one of the few that can,” McKinney says. “He possesses the ability to create scoring opportunities that will allow him to carry a midfield line.”
I’m intrigued to see where Vandegrift’s game will go, as he can also play a little attack and flourish at that position. This spring, he’ll team up with his brother James for the Lions (15-3 in ’14), coached by former Penn State standout Rob Forster. Kevin only visited St. Joe’s during the process, though schools like Georgetown and Michigan expressed interest during the fall.
Duke’s/Big 4’s Jordan Donaghy (M – Malvern Prep, Pa.) to Penn State
On social media, the Duke’s Lacrosse Club seems to preach being ‘Philly Tough’ pretty hard, and there may not be a player who fits that billing better than 2018 middie Jordan Donaghy. Equally dangerous on the offensive end as he is defensively, he’s a sturdy and quick athlete who is phenomenal when the ball is on the ground, frustrates opposing midfielders with his lockdown D but also puts the ball in the back of the net. I watched him play a ton this fall with Duke’s and Big 4 and loved what he brought to the table, as does McKinney.
“Jordan is skilled and has a great shot, but his mastery of face-off wing play, man-down defense, 6v6 defense and his ability to transition the ball will make it difficult for a college coach to decide to allocate Jordan’s energy to settled 6v6 offense,” McKinney says. “He is the kind of player that can average two points a game without being on an offensive midfield line.
A lot of kids from the Main Line grow up loving Penn State, so I would guess that it was a relatively easy decision for him in many ways, knowing that he only visited them and wanted a big athletic department. Donaghy, a talented three-sport athlete, turned down inquiries from Princeton, Maryland and Denver, committing to the Nittany Lions but waiting to make it public until January 1st. Going forward, it will be enjoyable watching Donaghy, as he’s the kind of recruit that jumps off the page after just a few minutes of evaluating due to how well-rounded his game already is. It’s a long way away, however this excellent pickup for Jeff Tambroni is the type of rough and will likely be a stud for the new Big 10 lacrosse conference.
Leading Edge’s Griffin Westlin (M – Seton Hall Prep, N.J.) to Hopkins
Making up an excellent 2018 midfield class nationwide, Griffin Westlin was one of the more steady, athletic and sharpshooting playmakers throughout the duration of the fall. Showing off his beautiful left-handed shot, he picked up writeups at the Big 4 Champion’s League and Philly Team Invitational. Westlin, who entered Seton Hall Prep this fall, is a huge verbal at Hopkins and Petro’s 11th verbal in the class of 2018. Between him and Team 91’s Sean Kuttin, a fellow Freshman Fifteen member, the Blue Jays will have a stellar midfield class if those two pan out like college recruiters think they will.
A 4.0 student, his other final five options were Penn, Loyola, Penn State, Maryland and Princeton. Like the others written up above, Westlin felt strongly about the ‘legendary lacrosse program and strong academic reputation’, saying that he went with his gut when committing to JHU.
“When I first stepped on campus at Hopkins, I immediately felt a strong vibe that I knew I wanted to be a part of for four years. I gave a lot of thought to my decision, sleeping on it for several nights… everything about the school seemed to be right for me,” says Westlin. “From the instant I met coach Pietramala, I knew it would be a privilege to be a member of the Hopkins lacrosse family and that he would challenge me to be the best student-athlete I can be.”
Knowing that he is constantly getting better (Westlin’s performances this fall were significantly better than what’s shown in the highlight video below), the Hunterdon County resident has loads of potential. One of my favorite players in the class at this early point, I’m pumped to see what Westlin does this spring and summer, as he’s definitely capable of making an impact at the varsity level.
SweetLax’s Jacob Walthour (LSM – Columbia, N.J.) to Syracuse
Making and impressing at Maverik Showtime’s 2017 All-Star Game, transferring from Salisbury School (Conn.) to his local high school and re-classing, Walthour completed a busy few months when he committed to the Syracuse Orange on January 7th. His connections to SU are plentiful, as he trains extensively with former ‘Cuse All-American defenseman John Lade (Rochester Rattlers) in addition to the fact that Jacob’s older sister is a student there. He also looked hard at schools like North Carolina and Johns Hopkins, but ultimately felt that John Desko’s program was where he wanted to be.
“When I started playing lacrosse five years ago, I had a dream of playing for Syracuse,” Walthour, who has also played with LI Sting this past summer, says of his decision. “I like to win and they have had a really strong winning tradition – every year they seem to have a chance to win another title.”
A member of SweetLax who took a giant step forward this fall, especially at the Philly Freshman Showcase, Walthour throws awesome takeaway checks and is an athlete capable of making things happen in transition. It’s more than clear that through working with Lade, he’s drastically improved his cover skills, somewhat of a weak point when I watched him in July. If he continues his upward trajectory, Walthour can certainly become a Top 50 player in the class, though the work begins now.
“My parents have reminded me that this [commitment] is a blessing, but it can be a curse, like the cover of Sports Illustrated,” Walthour said in an e-mail interview this month. “I can already see friends and players treating me differently, I wish this were not the case but I have to be mature and deal with it. On the field, I want coaches and kids to challenge me! It makes me better.”