BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — A couple of years ago at this time, Lucas Quinn was starting to finalize his college decision. For a few months, he had been trying to decide between some of the nation’s best schools for men’s lacrosse. Eventually, he picked Syracuse University.
Quinn is now a couple months from starting his junior season of lacrosse — that is, at Niskayuna High School.
He committed to play for the Orange as a high school freshman, several weeks before he ever played a varsity game for the Silver Warriors.
“I was 15 at that time,” said Quinn, now 17.
In recent years, college lacrosse programs have been receiving verbal commitments from athletes at younger and younger ages. While Quinn, who helped Niskayuna win its first state championship last year as a midfielder, is considered one of the nation’s top prep players for his grade, his status as a highly sought-after lacrosse recruit who had not finished a single year of high school was more commonplace than one might expect.
In fact, just earlier this month, Florida eighth-grader Caitlyn Wurzburger became one of the youngest recorded players — male or female — to make a commitment, also offering a verbal to Syracuse.
That news came on the heels of reports in December that the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association began the process of attempting to change NCAA rules so that zero contact could be made between coaches and recruits until Sept. 1 of an athlete’s junior year of high school. The Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association took similar steps in September.
Currently, coaches cannot initiate direct contact with prospective athletes until Sept 1. of his or her junior year, but loopholes — such as communication allowed through third parties, or athletes allowed to initiate contact — exist in the system.
Scott Marr, the University at Albany’s veteran men’s lacrosse coach, was at the IMLCA’s December meeting in January and said he was pleased to see the members of his profession starting to take steps to correct what had become a “disturbing” trend of college lacrosse recruits growing younger.
“We were going down the wrong road here,” said Marr, who lives in Clifton Park. “And, if we continued going down it, it was going to get uglier.”
Marr has experience with college lacrosse recruiting from a variety of perspectives. He played college lacrosse at Johns Hopkins University; he’s coached college lacrosse since 1992, and started coaching at UAlbany in 2001; and two of his children have gone through the recruiting process — son Kyle now a freshman at Johns Hopkins University and daughter Jordyn is heading to UAlbany after finishing her senior year at Shenendehowa.
Marr’s experiences have crafted his recruiting philosophy. While his program has received commitments from some players on the younger side of the spectrum — “Some kids really do know [where they want to go], and that’s OK,” he said — he generally has not started to seek kids until they are in their sophomore or junior years. Most of his players, he said, have committed to UAlbany during their junior and senior years of high school.
That timeline, he said, is what makes the most sense to him.
“It’s more of an honest and true process that way,” Marr said.
But the coach also acknowledged that recruits can feel pressure to make a decision as fast as possible to guarantee a spot at a school he or she likes. Quinn — who Marr listed as an example of a kid who was clearly talented enough to warrant early attention — said he did feel some internal pressure to make a quick decision.
“Like, I remember when I first looked at North Carolina, they already had five, six guys committed,” Quinn said. “That kind of worried me.”
The Niskayuna junior said he is still thrilled with the decision he made to commit to Syracuse, but voiced support for the proposed changes to restrict recruitment of younger players. Marr said he’s not sure which year the changes will take hold, but expressed confidence the NCAA would act in the near future.
“I think with us and the women’s coaches being united on this, it’s something that should pass,” he said. “I don’t see why anyone would say this [change] is a bad thing.”