Strong on faceoffs with the potential to become a versatile two-way midfielder, the 16-year-old Arlington resident’s recruiting profile offered no guarantee of a place on a talented squad that includes 16 other players who have pledged to play at Division I schools.
Offutt has plans to suit up for the University of Virginia in the 2017 season, but the news that the freshman had squeezed into one of the last spots on Landon’s 42-player roster came as a relief.
“Trying out there was definitely some pressure, it was like ‘Oh no, What if I’m a U-Va. commit on J.V.?’ ” Offutt said.
The push to fill recruiting classes with the top lacrosse players has forced college coaches to face a new reality, following an accelerated timetable that U.S. Lacrosse President Steve Stenersen compares to “an arms race.”
The recruiting process for this nonrevenue sport on the collegiate level, involving exclusive club teams and elite recruiting events, now more closely resembles that of high-grossing basketball and football.
Less than three years after the first sophomore made an oral commitment, Forry Smith, a freshman at Haverford School in Pennsylvania, gave his pledge in November to play for Johns Hopkins. A few weeks later, Offutt became the area’s first ninth-grader to make an unofficial commitment. Nationally, 125 current sophomores and six freshmen have made oral commitments, according to Inside Lacrosse.
“I don’t think it’s healthy,” said Dave Cottle, who spent 28 years as a college head coach at Loyola (Md.) and Maryland and now leads his son’s Class of 2015 club team in Anne Arundel County. “I tell those guys to dig in their heels a little bit and slow down the process, but it’s really hard for the kids and the parents and the club coaches to do that because they feel like they’re going to let a great opportunity go by.”
These lacrosse players are not jockeying for a totally free college education when families shell out hundreds of dollars annually to put their children in position to be seen by college coaches.
Fully-funded Division I teams — there are currently 63 squads at the top level, with four more set to debut next spring [Furman, Boston University, Richmond and Monmouth] — divide 12.6 scholarships over a roster of about 40 players, and full rides to play the sport at the next level are almost unheard of.
But even without knowledge of their specific slice of that limited scholarship money, players and their parents are compelled to start the process early to grab a spot in a recruiting class and with it peace of mind that they will have the best opportunity to gain admission to the college of their choice.
In October, U.S. Lacrosse, the national governing body for the men’s and women’s game, released a strongly worded statement decrying the current recruiting climate. Stenersen said in a phone interview that the process undermines the youth sport culture and also threatens its rapid growth. He worries that raising the stakes in the club system could deny opportunities to “expand entry to the game beyond the stereotypical rich, white child.”