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If you are good enough, and work hard...

2013 Tewaaraton Trophy winner Rob Pannell's patience paid off with a record career at Cornell.
Courtesy USLacrosse

Late Bloomers Pannell, Holman Loathe Early Recruiting

At least two members of Team USA think the current state of recruiting in lacrosse is broken.

Their logic is simple. It missed them.

Rob Pannell, who set the NCAA Division I scoring record at Cornell, could barely attract a single scholarship offer prior to his senior year. Marcus Holman, who did not even make his high school varsity team until his sophomore year, now uses his experience playing recruiting catch-up as an assistant at Utah, which currently competes in the MCLA.

Pannell remembers the day prior to his junior year when NCAA recruiting rules allowed coaches to start calling recruits in his high school class.

“I was sitting by my phone,” he said.

It didn’t ring.

“At that age, coaches want more of the complete athletic type,” said Pannell, who was entering his junior year as a smaller-than-most 15-year-old. “A lot of my friends who were more the athletic type were committing to schools. Some schools called. Not many.”

As most elite players began committing as juniors, Pannell was still looking for an offer. In the summer prior to his senior year, he tried out for the elite Empire Games, then a key recruiting venue. He didn’t make it.

“I had some schools I was talking to [that said], ‘Make the Empire team and we’ll figure it out,’” Pannell said. “I never heard from them again.”

Recruited by Towson and Quinnipiac, Pannell signed a letter of intent with the latter before his senior season.

“I felt like I needed to do it before every spot was taken,” he said.

Then, quite literally, he grew up. Between the Empire tryouts and his senior season at Smithtown High School (N.Y.), Pannell grew more than three inches and gained 15 pounds. As a senior, he scored 130 points, made All-American teams and might have had his pick of Division I schools. But his signed letter of intent meant he was untouchable. After a year of prep school, but still tied to Quinnipiac, he landed at Cornell, which, as an Ivy League campus, is not bound by scholarship rules.

The rest is lacrosse history.

The kid, who was crossed off lists at the Empire Games, became the most dominant offensive player in NCAA history, scoring 354 points, a record eclipsed only later by Lyle Thompson.

Not surprisingly, Pannell detests today’s recruiting.

“I can’t stand it,” he said. “Kids feel this obligation to play lacrosse 24-7 because they’re afraid they’re going to miss a step or fall behind.”

“If those schools want you, that spot will be there,” Pannell advised. “And if that spot isn’t there because you didn’t commit when they said you needed to, then it wasn’t the right place for you.”

“I wish I would have taken my time even more,” he added.

Ironically, Pannell thinks the early recruiting scramble has fueled the emergence of new programs outside of lacrosse’s traditional powerhouses, like Marquette, Richmond and Furman.

“That’s why you’re seeing those schools upset big-time programs,” he said. “Those players are hungrier.”

One coach looking for those hungry players is Holman, now an assistant under his father Brian at Utah. As a freshman at Gilman School in Baltimore, Holman played JV — “second team,” he said.

After switching to attack and putting in a summer of tireless work, he started on varsity as a sophomore. Still, he said, it took another full year for Division I coaches to find him. After his sophomore year, his friends received invitations to a recruiting camp. He did not.

“It pissed me off,” he said. “From then on, I wanted to make sure I was never off the list again.”

After a strong summer club season, Holman signed with North Carolina prior to his junior year.

“That was about average then,” he said. “These days, that would be late.”

Now at Utah, which hopes to jump to Division I in two years, Holman said he has targeted players who became stars as juniors and seniors, only to find that elite schools had passed them by.