January 22, 2011

Metzbower Navigates Recruiting from Other Side, Says NCAA Should Change Rules

by Brian Logue | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Convention Live Blog

Former Princeton University men's lacrosse assistant coach Dave Metzbower is now the head boys' lacrosse coach at Malvern (Pa.) Prep.

BALTIMORE – As an assistant coach, David Metzbower helped attract enough talent to Princeton University to win six national championships. He spent his summers in folding chairs watching camp after camp, game after game. He chased down academic transcripts, talked to countless coaches and dealt with the ever-changing wants and needs of teenage boys and their families.

That may have been the easy part.

Metzbower is on the other side of college lacrosse's increasingly complex recruiting environment, both in his work with Gold Medal Recruiting and with his new job as head coach at Malvern (Pa.) Prep.

"I'm helping guide families through the process," said Metzbower, who left Princeton in 2009 when Bill Tierney moved on to the University of Denver. "A lot of high school coaches out there just want to teach and just want to coach. They're not sticking their nose out there."

It's a process that changes every year, driven largely by earlier and earlier college commitments by the elite high school players. When the top players commit, it quickly trickles down to the next level of players.

"The kids start getting uptight," said Metzbower. "The spots are getting smaller and smaller. With the Internet and kids hanging out, everyone knows. The world's getting a lot smaller. The kids are worried."

Metzbower served on a recruiting panel, sponsored by Lax101.com, during the US Lacrosse National Convention on Friday at the Baltimore Convention Center.

A few years ago at the convention, there was concern about high school juniors committing to schools in the fall. This year, there are stories of sophomores – players with three years of high school lacrosse still to play – making commitments.

There are a number of NCAA rules in place to help control the recruiting environment, but they are largely ineffective. Division I coaches can't write to potential recruits until Sept. 1 of their junior year in high school and they can't call recruits until July 1 after their junior year.

But there are easy workarounds. There are no rules preventing high school players from calling college coaches, and the coaches can talk with the players as long as they don't initiate the call. It's pretty easy for a college coach to call a high school coach and tell him to have a player call him.

Metzbower would like to see that change.

"The NCAA should put in a rule that you can't talk to kids until Jan. 1 of their junior year," said Metzbower. "Then we'd all have a starting point."

Something like that may eventually change things, but for now, families are put in a difficult spot.

John Nostrant, a partner with Metzbower in Gold Medal Recruiting and the head coach at the Haverford (Pa.) School puts it bluntly – "They don't understand anything."

It's easy to see why. Students interested in playing lacrosse in college will operate on a completely different calendar than their peers. Regular students may begin visiting colleges the summer before their senior year of high school. The elite Division I programs have not only finalized their list of rising seniors by then, they're well on their way to wrapping up their rising junior class by that point.

Of course, not everyone is that far ahead of schedule, and more and more top programs are holding a spot or two for late bloomers.

Tufts won the NCAA Division III title last year and head coach Mike Daly is trying to fight the early recruiting phenomenon as much as he can. By August of this past year, his recruiting class for 2011 was only about a third filled. But he's also not going to be left behind.

"We'll do what we need to do to be competitive," said Daly.

The environment has created a frenzy about which camps and tournaments to go to. Parents bombard high school coaches with concerns when their child isn't selected for this showcase or that.

It's led Delbarton (N.J.) School coach Chuck Ruebling to do things, as he calls it, in reverse. "I ask, 'What schools are you interested in and then find out where they're going to be."

Too many players just want to be seen without giving thought to what the right choice for their future is. Often times, especially when they're beginning this process when they're only 14 or 15 years old, they're driven by the bright lights of Division I when a different environment would be a better fit.

So, what's a player to do?

Some recommendations from the panel:

- Set yourself up to be successful. Go to a couple of camps and/or tournaments in the summer and begin doing it by the time you've started high school.

- Focus on academics right away. A couple of C's in your freshman year might have been forgiven when colleges had a chance to view your entire college career. With decisions happening sooner, your freshman grades carry more weight.

- Be proactive and show schools that you have an interest. When Metzbower was at Princeton, he usually had a file of 60 "active" recruits and maybe 800 "dead" files. "I was looking for reasons to cut my list, not add to it.

- Highlight tapes work as a way to spark interest. Shoot an e-mail with a direct link to the programs you think would be a fit for you.

- Go to an instructional camp at schools you're genuinely interested in. It gives you a better feel for the school, and the coaches will get a better and longer look at you.

- Do a reality check and talk to people that will give you an honest assessment of your ability. There are only 62 Division I men's lacrosse programs, meaning there's roughly 620 spots available each year for kids that want to play at the level.

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