The Rundown: How Early Recruiting Affects The Athlete, School and Sport


Haverford’s Forry Smith (Hopkins), the first commit in the class of 2016

About a week or so ago, a high school junior in Washington, D.C. reached out to me after being assigned an argument essay for school, choosing to delve into the red-hot topic of early recruiting in lacrosse. In this assignment, he was required to have a professional’s opinion so I obliged and took some time to bang out my thoughts into an e-mail. It’s not super in-depth with examples and quotes (like I’d imagine I’ll do in coming months) but I figured that this would make for a simple, relatively interesting piece of content to start the weekend.

Also make sure to check out last week’s Rundown column that touches on what’s considered ‘too early’ to evaluate, the Under Armour underclass games and the Top 25 rankings. For any feedback, ideas for stories, commitments, etc., your e-mails are always welcomed at

As a reference point, even if it’s somewhat dated , check out a timeline-based piece I collaborated on with my former IL coworker Geoff Shannon in the fall of 2013 that looked back at the big moments in early recruiting since July 2009.

Making the actual decision is full of pressure and anxiety however in the long run, it’s a positive for the kid that he’s able to lock up his future with a partial scholarship to what’s likely a great academic school. After the point of the decision, there are a multitude of variables when it comes to what kind of effect (good or bad) an early verbal has on the athlete himself, and much of that has to do with his maturity level, work ethic and surroundings.

An early verbal comes with external pressure where it’s on the kid to continue to perform well and live up to expectations. Instead of being a name or a jersey number, you’re the freshman who committed to that ACC during the first semester of high school and has to perform at a high level at all times in the eyes of others. As a college-bound athlete this will always be the case – early recruiting in lacrosse has made it so that the player has a few more years of expectations than athletes in other sports that decide in their junior and senior years.

Often working in the young player’s favor, an early verbal brings incentive to work towards (in many cases) signing a National Letter of Intent and getting to college. A commitment is a non-binding agreement that can be broken at any time, so the onus is on the recruit to work hard in the classroom, stay out of trouble and improve on the lacrosse field. Colleges are starting to drop their recruits based on them failing to meet the program’s standards.

There are a lot of opinions that early recruiting is “bad for lacrosse”, however we’re at a point where it’s too soon to know one way or the other. Freshman and sophomore recruiting saw a tremendous increase with the Class of 2012, a group currently underway with their junior seasons. I’m a firm believer that no judgments can be made until that group graduates, just in terms of being able to measure the impact of early recruiting on success and parity at the Division I level.

A positive is that the timeline has forced middle school skill development to become a priority in the club lacrosse world. With many high school freshmen making decisions, club coaching in 7th and 8th grade has had to become terrific in order to prepare young kids for the recruiting circuit. When you watch the players in their first recruiting camps, it’s evident that the coaching is at an extremely high level in comparison to what it was a few years ago.

The early recruiting trend has also changed things so that the emphasis is on what a prospect does during in the summer rather than during a school’s high school season in the spring. More tournaments and showcases are popping up run by club coaches turned businessmen in hopes of cashing in on the trend. College programs continue to line the fields during the summer and fall and will seldom be seen evaluating in person during the spring. Players with no varsity experience are able to commit to well renowned Division I programs, so summer all-stars often overshadow a system player who does a better job thriving in the spring.

As far as evaluating talent goes, recruiting is risky if it occurs during a prospect’s senior year just like it’s risky if freshmen and sophomore verbals are taken. Picking out the best players in the class is easy to the trained eye, however 14 to 18-year-olds are unpredictable and all mature and develop at different rates. Depending on what college you speak with, each handles early recruiting in a certain way – some will go earlier to keep up with the trends and gobble up the talent as soon as possible, while others tend to prefer picking up prospects late in their sophomore and junior years.

Overall, as I mentioned above, it’s hard to measure whether or not a school has been negatively affected by early recruiting. Once these schools see that they’ve been burned by their own early decisions, then the Division I landscape might see a change in the timeline.

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