NAIA Coach Interview: Patrick Johnston — Keiser Men’s Lacrosse
Nick Zoroya: For those who aren’t familiar with your program, what year were you founded, what conference are you in, how long have you been the head coach of the program?
Patrick Johnston: The Keiser Men’s Lacrosse program played our inaugural season in 2016-2017. I was hired in April 2016 to get the program up and running by August 2016 so both the program and I are heading into our fourth year. While Keiser University Athletics competes in The Sun Conference, our program has always competed as an Independent and we will continue as an Independent until The Sun Conference sponsors Lacrosse.
NZ: What is your coaching background? Were you a player yourself?
PJ: I started playing lacrosse at Culver Military Academy when a Naval Officer named Bob Meek at the Academies handed me and most every other hockey player a lacrosse stick… we had to play three sports at Culver then so it made sense. After Culver, I played four years at the University of Alabama where I was an 2x Academic All-America and 2x All-Conference defender. I actually stayed at Alabama to help coach for one year before accepting a job to teach and Coach a new program at Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach. I was the HS Head Coach there for three years before moving across town to help Chris Southard with his new program at Palm Beach Atlantic University. I was an assistant coach at PBA from 2009-2012 before accepting the Director of Lacrosse position at Emmanuel College in Georgia to start their NCAA DII men’s and women’s programs. I was at Emmanuel from 2012-2016 before heading back to South Florida to start the Keiser program.
NZ: What attracted you to this school in particular?
PJ: Honestly a lot. Obviously West Palm Beach, Florida is an amazing location but Keiser University supports their students, their athletes, their academics, and their athletics like no other place I have been. We have great facilities, but we have an even better staff— we have amazing administrators… a dedicated athletic trainer for our team along with six other ATs who take care of our men all day everyday… a full-time strength coach who trains and guides our guys weight training, conditioning, and nutrition… SIDs who not only stat and film, live stream games with commentators, but create amazing content with posters, info-graphics, gifs, highlights, they work with ESPN radio and local TV, you name it they do it. The people here at Keiser University make it a great place to work, study, and play.
NZ: What would you say is the biggest accomplishment of your program since you’ve been here?
PJ: That’s tough. As a team, we’ve had a National Championship appearance, made the National Tournament three times, and won two Conference Championships. Individually, we’ve had eight All-Americans, two Conference Player of the Years, 30 All-Conference Players, and 7 NAIA Daktronics Academic All-Americans. Honestly though, nothing tops watching the friendships and bonds the players make with each other, especially when you see them together smiling with caps and gowns on and diplomas in their hands.
NZ: What three/four players are you looking to lean on this year?
PJ: For the first time in our program history, I don’t think we have to lean on any specific players. We are deep at attack and midfield, two guys are controlling the face-off X, there’s a solid core on defense, and four goalies are battling for the starting spot daily. If one guy isn’t having his best day, he has 34 brothers that have his back. We have both freshmen and upperclassmen having great fall ball which so far has helped us dominate an area MCLA team and get a fall win over a good DII team. This is 100% a team.
NZ: What themes or mottos is your program currently utilizing?
PJ: Our inaugural year players came up with the program’s Mission Statement that we still use today, and it’s essentially “To be the hardest working and most respected”. That’s an everyday challenge that we discuss and strive for in all facets. That’s our what, and our for is “To represent our families, friends, teammates and university”. Our core values of Dedication (Do what has to be done), Discipline (Do what has to be done, when it has to be done), and Determination (Do what has to be done, when it has to be done, as well as it can be done) are our how.
NZ: What are you most looking forward to this upcoming season?
PJ: The same as every year, I’m definitely looking forward to the journey. The life span of a team is one year, guys come… guys go… guys take different roles, so making the most of each opportunity together and building the best person and team possible is always an experience in itself. Everyone on this team is bought in to the process, and working on being better each day so I’m excited to see where this journey takes us!
NZ: How do we improve lacrosse in the NAIA moving forward?
PJ: We need more teams. The NAIA itself needs to take the next step. They opened the door to sponsoring lacrosse as an “emerging sport” and started the NAIA Invitational in 2015, but it’s time to take the next step. Until then, I personally think we won’t see many more schools make the move to add lacrosse and jump to varsity unless their conference already sponsors it. The AAC, the KCAC, and the WHAC have honestly been the biggest stewards of the sport at our level. I know The Sun Conference is pushing and will be there soon with us, SCAD, and Webber coming in next year. But you have teams out west in the Cascade Collegiate Conference for example who I think are ready but there’s no real incentive as an Invitational, so those schools keep lingering or are content to stay in the MCLA. We’re so close to taking that next step, and this sport will be a great addition to both schools and the NAIA once we all start pushing toward the next step as association.
NZ: If you had just one sentence to shamelessly plug your program…
PJ: If you want a nationally ranked, career-focused education that you will love where you study, where you play, and where you live… choose Keiser. Go Seahawks!
Thanks, coach, for participating in our NAIA coach interview and good luck this year!