Most college lacrosse fans would agree that Rob Pannell and Billy Bitter are two of the most (if not the most) exciting attackmen in the game today. What do they have in common? They both spent a post graduate year at Deerfield Academy (missing each other by a year), the prestigious boarding school in the Western Division 1 of the New England Prep School Athletic Conference (NEPSAC).
Fun fact: Pannell was the only player Tambroni claims he ever recruited solely from his highlight tape, meaning he never saw him play in person!
Lately, Empower the Athlete has received a lot of questions about the Post Graduate Year from high school student athletes who are wondering if it would be a good idea for them. Some are late bloomers, some were under-recruited, and some feel they would benefit from another year of high school, both athletically and academically.
There is no doubt that many of the top players in college today have benefited from an extra year of high school, but that does not mean a PG year is right for everyone. Just as we urge families to do their due diligence in the college search process, and find a school that is the right fit, we do the same when they consider a Post Graduate year. To learn more about the PG we decided to get advice from those who are most qualified to advise on the topic.
The first person we asked was the legendary Coach Jim “Grim” Wilson. To give you some background on “Grim”, after graduating from Yale he started lacrosse at the Loomis Chafee School in 1960 and coached the program for 49 years. As the head coach he developed the program into not only one of the best in western New England’s Founders League, but also one of the best in the country. His program consistently ranked in the top 10 in the country and produced many players that went on to have great college lacrosse careers. Not only was Coach Wilson a great coach, but also a great teacher and mentor and he still keeps in touch with many of his players today.
Coach Wilson retired from Loomis Chafee in 2008 and of his career he says he “Loved every minute of it… wonderful memories of terrific assistants, other mentors, many players (mostly just hard working student athletes) and friends of the game and especially Loomis lacrosse.” He now lives in Strafford, VT and continues to coach at Kimball Union Academy, as assistant to Eric Russman, one of his former players at Loomis Chafee.
Along with Loomis Chafee (LC), The Founders’ League is made up of Northfield Mount Hermon, Salisbury, Avon Old Farms, Hotchkiss, Kent, Trinity Pawling and Choate. They all have a proven track record of success stories for PGs. Over the past few years the balance of power in the NEPSAC has shifted to Deerfield and Salisbury, but before that Loomis was the team to beat (before that it was Taft, and before that it was Avon Old Farms). Coach Wilson coached his share of PGs and is as much of an expert as one will find on the topic.
Here are some excerpts from Coach Wilson’s sage advice about the PG year from his Q&A with Empower the Athlete that are important to share (click here to read the entire Q&A):
On average, how many PGs would you have a given year at Loomis Chafee? What was the most you ever had in one year?
Since around 1990, two to three on average. On occasion four and even five once or twice when a young man who was primarily a football or basketball recruit also played lacrosse.
What is the instance where you think a high school player would really benefit from a PG year?
When the young man has not, for whatever reasons, developed his talents and interests in multiple ways. Too often a young man might have focused on his sport(s), and not really developed intellectually and recognized his limitations.
I do NOT think schools should (and I tried not to) recruit a kid who was focused on his sport and just wanted to get better by having another year, and thereby maybe getting a few more college looks. I can think of numerous PG’s (and their parents), who after the year was over, would write or call to say how wonderful the year had been in helping the boy develop and pursue other interests; they knew he was a good athlete, but could he think or act or play an instrument or be a leader???
One of those kids is playing at UVa right now, and at LC developed a whole new idea about athletics and school and life. I also think of one terrific PG attackman who was also a fine musician – but never had time to develop it and coaches would never give him time off. He was shocked (and pleased) when I told him he should miss our spring trip to Florida so he could go with the Chamber Singers to England. His parents too were very most grateful that he could develop these other interests.
Related to this… I think it is a great mistake for a young athlete to come for just one sport. He should understand that IF he is an athlete, he should contribute at least two seasons. (ETA Note: Coach brings up a great point here, one that we will come back to later!)
What are the circumstances where a player might want to do a PG year where you would advise against it?
If he is a mature, able student and is en route to go to a very good college where he can also play lacrosse. To do the extra year (at considerable expense) just so he might get recruited by a “better” lacrosse school is foolish… IF he is that good, coaches will already have told him so, and will have recruited him. Recruiting for the top lacrosse schools is done during the sophomore and junior years and kids know before their senior year if they are slotted for a top D1 school.
And what the boy does in lacrosse at Loomis does not matter at all in the college recruiting process; college acceptances are completed BEFORE we even warm up!
What was the timeline like for the admissions process for PGs when you were at Loomis? Can they decide to apply in the spring of their senior year after they have gotten acceptance letters back? Should they start the process much sooner?
Spring of junior year is time to make contact, but LC anyway would not take visit and applications until the fall of the senior year. I would keep in contact with the family and get them to visit in early September. Over the summer I would be sure to get the skinny on the boy, possibly see him play etc. In 2008, we had two PG’s who did that and both are now having VERY successful careers (in and out of the classroom) at two top colleges.
How much does the ability of the player come into factor when they would contact you about PGing at your school? And with it being a factor, how would you evaluate their ability? Watch film? Talk to their coach?
Well, there is an implicit Academic Index, so the candidate has to have shown some academic prowess; comments by teachers are important. I NEVER encouraged a boy who I thought would not succeed in the classroom. NEVER! Once he contacts me, I contacted the coach. Very rarely did kids have good tape (that may have changed as more kids get this done professionally).
A lot of our PG candidates would come from areas from which others had come, so I had a good context/ frame of reference with which to judge them. Often I could see the boy in the summer if he was on the east coast. Sometimes I could ask a former player/alum to go see him.
Do schools “recruit” PGs? Or do the prospects usually contact the school/coach first? Do college coaches refer high school seniors who they think should get another year of experience/improve grades to specific schools or coaches?
ALL THREE. Some would just show up at admissions and I would see them. Because I coached for a long time (49 years) college coaches would refer young men – not just to LC but to several schools. Usually the coach would call me, ask if a certain boy might fit in etc… And I would also speak with kids at summer camps – or just be there to let kids meet me, and see the name of the school. College coaches helped a lot. And sometimes a high school coach (I can think of 5-6) would call about a player of his who he thought would benefit from an extra year.
You are well aware of how the recruiting process has advanced over the years, and starts at a younger age in players high school careers. From a high school coach’s standpoint, has this affected the process of developing good players for the next level? Has the mentality of players you coach shifted because they are being recruited earlier in their HS career?
I think the early recruiting is a huge mistake: kids who develop a little late are often missed, and I think it can mess up some kids psychologically who are only 15 or 16; and usually the youngster does not know what he wants from a college experience. BUT, this is the way it is.
I have worried that a sophomore or junior who has been heavily recruited might stop working hard, might focus on his own numbers, might not buy not the strong TEAM concept we always preached. BUT – I cannot recall that ever really happening.
A more common problem(s) arises when a young boy gets a letter or a pat on the butt from a college coach at a camp or tournament… and then he thinks he is “being recruited, maybe even the number 1 recruit”. Again, a dose of reality therapy from me and a reminder that the college coach does this to LOTS of kids… I spell out for the boy just exactly what it means to be seriously “recruited”.
How has the advanced recruiting process affected the PG year if at all?
In subtle ways. Since many [recruits] are essentially “signed” junior year, more seniors realize earlier that they may not be recruited, and then look to the PG year to help them with the college process. In few cases did the PG year help a boy attend a “better” lacrosse college – and I told PG candidates that. It very often broadened the kid’s outlook and he applied to schools different form what he had considered or applied to in high school (this goes back to your first question)… This is good!!!
Since most NE boarding schools season ends around the same time as the college season, there is less of a chance for college coaches to scout these teams’ games. So many of the players from schools like yours get almost all of their exposure to coaches from summer camps and tournaments. How does the PG year help with recruiting? Seeing as they will probably be decided on a college before they ever even play for the school they are PGing at.
I tell the PG candidates this: “What you do on the lax field at LC will matter not at all.” It gives them the summer to make it – or the increasing number of fall showcase tourneys. I don’t sense that this effected recruiting very much. Related to this is the importance of the boy playing several sports – partly so he can be involved in the school in the fall and winter, and partly to improve himself as an athlete. I am passionate about this and we worked hard on this at LC… I have little use for the kid who says “I’m going to lift this winter/fall to get ready for lacrosse!” BS… but this is another topic. [Coach brought this up in his response to the second question, we promise to revisit the issue of specialization in lacrosse with him]
I never wanted more than 2-3 PG’s, and worked hard through the year to integrate them with the other players and into our team concept. I can remembers several who told me, after they graduated, how shocked (and pleased) they were to be invited, along with the other seniors, to meet a few times in the winter to define to goals for the upcoming season and discuss how we were going to hold each other accountable.
Coach Wilson has done, and continues to do, amazing things for the game of lacrosse and the Growth of the Game. We are extremely grateful to him for sharing his perspective and wealth of knowledge.
Empower the Athlete also had two other Q&A’s about the PG Year; one with Lars Tiffany of Brown University, and the other with Randy Hobbs of the Kent School (which is also in the Founders’ League). Please click the links to read the entire Q&As, they were just too long to get into one blog post.