For as long as historians can remember, lacrosse players have been starring in football … or maybe it’s football players starring in lacrosse. Regardless of what you want to call it, there’s always been a significant crossover between the two sports for it’s fast pace of play and physicality.
All-World athletes like Jim Brown – who hails from the lacrosse-crazy Long Island town of Manhasset and went on to star at Syracuse and the Cleveland Browns – paved the way in the first generation of laxers to also have great success on the gridiron. In the 1980’s, there were two-sport studs like Mike Pressler (Washington & Lee ’82) and Jon Reese (Yale ’90) grabbing headlines. More recently, NFL standouts such as Patrick Kerney, Steven Hauschka and Mark Herzlich were high school lax greats. Now, it’s a regular occasion to have athletes stand out in both and choose to play football at the next level. Here’s a look at a few stars that never played college lacrosse and instead opted for the pigskin:
Evan Royster, RB, Penn State (2006-2010)
To this day, the Westfield (Va.) product credits lacrosse as helping him tremendously with vision and footwork that allowed him to become the Nittany Lions’ all-time leading rusher with 3,932 yards.
Before suiting up for famed PSU head coach Joe Paterno, he was an Under Armour All-American midfielder in 2006, the first year of the annual event highlighting the nation’s top 44 lacrosse players. At the time, his prowess between the lines drew heavy interest from proud programs like Virginia and Hopkins, finishing his career with 170 points in Northern Virginia. Fast-forward to 2015 and he’s a recent pickup by the Atlanta Falcons (who will need him after injuries to other RB’s) after a three-year start with the Washington Redskins.
“What if that [Royster] kid decided to come here to play lacrosse?” UVA head coach Dom Starsia told the New York Times in 2008. “What he’s doing at Penn State in football is indicative of the caliber of athlete he is. If he had a lacrosse stick in his hand, he could have been a dominating Division I player at this level.”
Joey Ehrmann, OLB, Wake Forest (2008-2012)
The son of former Baltimore Colts great Joe Ehrmann, the Gilman (Md.) graduate was an All-Metro defenseman chosen to play in the 2008 Under Armour All-American Game. Ehrmann had tons of heralded college lacrosse programs going after him and could have followed in the footsteps of older brother Barney, a towering star longpole at Georgetown who dabbled in the MLL.
Ehrmann was a force on the lacrosse field, covering the opposite team’s top scoring option while helping the Greyhounds to an 18-0 regular season record and top five national ranking. However, the 6’3, 200-pound athlete was just as dominant hunting down ball carriers as a middle linebacker ranked by Rivals.com as No. 46 nationally at his position. Considering playing both sports until deciding in October 2007, Ehrmann collected offers from Syracuse, Duke and Iowa before choosing Wake Forest. As a Demon Deacon, he was a three-year starter at outside linebacker, finishing #1 on the team in tackles for loss during his senior year under coach Jim Grobe.
Greg Pyke, G, Georgia (2012-present)
Another former star in the MIAA, Pyke used his hulking frame and phenomenal footwork to his advantage as a Boys’ Latin (Md.) attackman once ranked by IL’s Geoff Shannon as No. 8 in the Class of 2012. Playing club for the Baltimore Crabs, Pyke’s play (and 6’5, 300-pound size) attracted a ton of spectators to the sidelines whenever he suited up while racking up goals left and right. He held offers from Notre Dame, Duke and Maryland to play both sports as well as between 15-20 scholarship offers to play high Division I football before choosing the University of Georgia a few weeks before his senior year began.
At UGA, the redshirt junior has quickly blossomed into one of the very best offensive linemen in the country, playing right guard and finishing as a 2nd team All-SEC selection. In his first year as a starter, Pyke helped pave the way for the Bulldogs’ heralded backfield of Todd Gurley, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, leading Georgia to a 10-3 record. He’ll be relied on heavily as the Dawgs have a loaded team that will once again challenge for a SEC crown.
J.D. Spielman, WR, Eden Prairie (Minn.) – Nebraska commit
Spielman’s another gifted athlete with phenomenal lineage: his father, Rick, is the GM for the Minnesota Vikings while his uncle, Chris, was a 4-time Pro Bowler as a linebacker for the Lions, Bills and Browns and is now a broadcaster with ESPN. Older brother, Ronnie, is a rising sophomore midfielder at Ohio State.
J.D., a senior for the four-time defending state champions, was committed to the Buckeyes for almost two years after establishing himself as a lights out midfielder for the now defunct Minnesota Elite program. In the spring, he made the decision to further explore the option of playing college football, attracting heavy Big 10 interest and an excellent profile done by Bleacher Report. The 5’8, 175-pound wide receiver with a 4.45 forty time chose the Nebraska Cornhuskers just under two weeks ago.
Alex Marshall, TE, Proctor Academy (N.H.) – three-star prospect
Marshall, who played club for Laxachusetts, was a hot topic in the summer of 2013 after turning in an outstanding few days at Nike Blue Chip. Playing for Laxachusetts and Andover HS in Massachusetts at the time, the freakishly athletic 6-foot-6 defenseman drew interest from Virginia, UNC, Maryland, Johns Hopkins before selecting the Tar Heels later that summer. Though Marshall has since de-committed, it’s intriguing to think about what kind of player he could have become if he had stuck with lacrosse.
Having transferred re-classed to become a 2017, the tight end nicknamed “Baby Gronk” for his on-field similarities to Patriots star Rob Gronkowski, Marshall has had a busy summer on the football camp circuit. He’s brought in offers from Pitt, Wake Forest, Miami (Oh.), NC State, UConn and a bevy of FCS programs. For updates on his progress, have a look at his ESPN.com profile as he searches for more offers.