When it comes to the recruiting process, it’s all about finding the right place, the right situation, the right fit.
They’re a trio of principles that Jack Kniffin (Darien, Conn.), a sophomore attack at Brown University, held true to heart as he jumped on the college search bandwagon while attending Darien High School. Kniffin just wrapped up his first season in the Ivy League, one in which he totaled 33 points, but took time to reflect upon on how he ended up in Rhode Island’s capital city.
Originally recruited by Lars Tiffany, now the head coach at Virginia, Kniffin was playing at the Baltimore Summer Kickoff during the summer of 2014. While there, the high school All-American quickly slid onto Tiffany’s radar screen, becoming a key target for the Bears’ fast-paced, run-and-gun style.
As decision time neared, Kniffin leaned heavily upon Jeff Brameier, his high school coach, for advice and believed Brown was most suited for him on and off the field. He believed so strongly that when Mike Daly, formerly the coach at Tufts University, took the Brown gig in place of Tiffany, Kniffin’s commitment never wavered.
“A big part of my recruiting was I wanted to go to a school I was happy at and could succeed at, and that could set me up for success later in life, regardless of lacrosse,” Kniffin said. “Lacrosse was a big part and I want to make the MLL, but that’s not my future — at most maybe five years of still playing. After that, I still have to find a way to make a living.”
The recruiting world Kniffin knew was different than today’s — now college coaches can’t contact prospective players until Sept. 1 of their junior year of high school — but his guiding principles still apply. They’re so resonant, in fact, that they translate across the lacrosse world and different divisions.
When Anthony Busconi (Watertown, Mass.), a junior attack at Division 2 Saint Anselm, became serious about playing collegiate lacrosse, he quickly realized that the Northeast-10 Conference would suit him best.
That decision came after some advice from Bryan Brazill, now an assistant coach at Merrimack, who was Busconi’s club coach at Home Grown Lacrosse. They discussed his options, and after a campus tour at Saint Anselm in Manchester, N.H., Busconi — who owns 44 points across his first two seasons as a Hawk — felt right at home.
“Once you find the level you want to play at, it’s ultimately how much you put into it,” Busconi said. “What you put in is what you’re getting to get out of it. Along the way, some coaches might not want you and you can’t get discouraged by that. What’s important is knowing that your place and your time will come.”
A similar story comes from John Hincks (Newtonville, Mass.), a sophomore midfielder at Williams, a Division 3 school that plays in the vaunted NESCAC. He called himself a “late bloomer,” and college recruitment became a true goal of his when he joined the Top Gun Fighting Clams, a club team in the Greater Boston area.
After that, Hincks had to solidify which type of school he wanted to attend, much like thousands of high schoolers do every year: Big or small? City or rural? Liberal arts or business? All questions were weighed, ones which led to him sending personalized emails to coaches with his highlight video attached.
One email came across the desk of George McCormack, the Williams head coach, and Hincks found himself immediately clicking with his “old-fashioned” style. The relationship only blossomed, and Hincks committed the summer heading into his senior year, leading to a 23-goal, 12-assist season in 2016.
“The one part that’s unexplainable is the journey takes you to the school you should be at in the end,” Hincks said. “Putting your head down and becoming a better lacrosse player and person is most important, all so when you get to the school of your dreams you can be successful there.”
To various degrees, the path Kniffin, Busconi and Hincks went down is traditional, one where coach and player meet halfway and the “right” school rises to the surface. However, there are some instances where college lacrosse recruitment is untraditional in every sense of the word.
There are two-sport athletes, roundabout paths and — in the case of Quinnipiac’s Drew D’Antonio (Norwalk, Conn.) — those who transfer. He just wrapped up his senior year with the Bobcats and still has to finish credits to officially graduate, because his first two seasons were spent at Bryant.
Under head coach Mike Pressler, D’Antonio was often Bryant’s fourth attackman, playing eight games across his freshman and sophomore seasons. D’Antonio had an honest conversation with Pressler, one in which he was told he likely wouldn’t start until his senior year, so he went in search of the right fit.
“My advice is to do what’s best for yourself,” said D’Antonio, the owner of 39 career points at Quinnipiac. “If you want to go to school and focus on the school and don’t mind being that fourth attackman and helping the team win on game day, do that. But if you want to play more, it’s OK to make that change.”
Each recruitment tale bears a different twist, a different set of this-then-that steps. But what emerges from the tangled web of nearly 300 lacrosse schools across the country is where a student-athlete should be.
Few move on to play professional lacrosse, and even then the options are limited, reinforcing why Kniffin, Busconi, Hincks and D’Antonio stress that it’s paramount that each player finds his right fit at the right school.
Club and high school ball equally are essential along the way, as are relationships with coaches and those in your corner, but one way or another it always seems to work itself out. That way, should your recruitment plan go a little haywire, you’re still part of an institution you love.
“A good rule of thumb is to pick a school you like outside of lacrosse,” Hincks said. “Even this year, a few guys got hurt and they’re still part of the brotherhood. Being part of a team, having 35 brothers who can help you out when you’re down, is an awesome thing about playing a college sport.”