By Nelson Coffin

One of the great things about playing college lacrosse has always been the access to a networking mechanism after graduation. Most of the networks are alumni based and traditionally most of them landed the young participants in the financial fields of Baltimore, New Jersey and New York. But that is changing as the landscape of great careers now includes so many in the technological arena.

The attraction to the traditional mid-Atlantic hotbeds was, for decades, due to the desire to compete at a high level on a club team while settling down and beginning a career after college. But the clubs in Florida, Chicago and various other areas that E-Lacrosse has visited this year are at comparable levels. Just watch the video we've posted. These two things, the tech boom and the lax boom, stretch existing networks into new regions and new ones emerge that defy geography altogether.

One of the "new networks" for many former collegiate and current club lacrosse players is Smartlink, LLC, a technological placement and contracting firm out of Annapolis, Maryland that boasts a 40-50% lacrosse playing employee base. That easily rivals some of the most lax-alumni networked brokerage houses in Manhattan. And the network Smartlink is building crosses university lines. If you played lacrosse in college, you are a welcome member of the network. The company slogan is "Relationship based, not Resume based." And it's not just a slogan. When checking references for new candidates, Smartlink calls their old coaches and teammates. Being a good team player is more important than ever.

The company's CEO Brendan Kelly, an ex-defenseman at Baltimore's Mount St. Joseph High School and at Salisbury University on Maryland's Eastern Shore, started the enterprise in 2000 as a placement and consulting business that has expanded onto several continents and into other lucrative fields, including energy, transportation and telecommunications. Like lacrosse over the last seven years, these businesses are booming and need more people. That's where Kelly and Smartlink come in. "We specialize in infrastructure deployment," says Kelly, staffing the folks who build cell towers, utility grids and even railroads.

And the network isn't just about work. Smartlink's people work hard and play hard, including Kelly. The Phys Ed major-turned entrepreneur still wields a 6-foot longstick while playing club ball in tournaments, like The Ocean City Lacrosse Tournament on Maryland's Eastern shore this August. He also formed, sponsored and played for two squads - Team Source and, later, Smartlink - that won five United States Club Lacrosse Association titles.

Kelly, the club defenseman is a balanced player, applying patience when necessary while being physical and bringing the lumber when required. Thinking on his feet, literally, is something that has served him well while building an operation that now employs a 100 people. It's a skill he values tremendously in those he hires, as well.

"It's a very competitive market," says Chris McQueeny, a T-Mobile construction manager for the greater Washington, D.C. area and a former Salisbury teammate of Kelly's on the first of seven Sea Gull D-III national championship teams. "You have to make a lot of decisions quickly. And if you don't know what you're doing, you can get your head knocked off."

And that's why Kelly values former lacrosse players as employees, given that they, too, had to deal with split-second decisions made on the fly while coaches screamed from the sideline, and games - sometimes seasons - hung in the balance.

The game produces battle-tested, goal-oriented folks willing to stick their noses into a beehive to get a goal - or in Kelly's case, to prevent one. Tom Worstell, an All-American middie back in the day and Mid-Atlantic Director of Sales at Smartlink is one of those people, tested by the game and succeeding in life, just like Kelly knew he would. Worstell, who played lax and Basketball at the University of Maryland in the 1980's knows just what it takes to be a good player and a successful Smartlink candidate.

"We want to utilize the whole lacrosse community, not just the D ones, twos and threes. We like candidates who are highly regarded by their lacrosse programs, wherever they play. The traits we draw on for success with Smartlink are present in most competitive lacrosse players. They are quick learners," says Worstell, "and they adapt to game plans well and give honest feedback to the team and coach. They are dedicated and work hard. They are consummate team players who take on any tasks to help the team. They are flexible role players who would play any position on the field to win. These kinds of guys are on every team and we want them."

Former players, McQueeny says, are ideal for the rigors of the business world.

"It says a lot about you and who you are if you've played, especially, a contact sport at a high level," says McQueeny, a three-time National Defenseman of the Year and a soon-to-be member of Salisbury's Athletic Hall of Fame.

Scott Garry, Regional Vice President at Smartlink, has placed lacrosse players all over the country and sees the success first hand. "We do not target degrees or schools. We target people. Lacrosse people come from all different backgrounds but have common threads in their upbringings that better ensure success like integrity and work ethic."

"We can recruit a male or female lacrosse player from anywhere in the country and that person might work for us anywhere in the country, like Philly or Chicago or Seattle, anywhere really. It's not a regional lacrosse network like most. I played at Whittier in California. I want players from all over with broad and different experiences," says Garry.

And Worstell says they need laxers to fill key roles right now. "Some will end up working for the company we place them with which starts them on a career there. Many others will work for us on a client site and grow with us. Most of the work is in wireless telecom, energy and transportation industries which are all high growth so we are always looking for great lacrosse people who want to learn."

The diplomas are in a box somewhere and the All-American plaques line the walls

From service to sales, lacrosse players have done well with Smartlink. "At least half of the people earning a Smartlink paycheck played college lacrosse," says Kelly. That makes for a prime work force and he's always looking to make that percentage even higher. Simply said, it's a smart link.

"We're a niche company, and lacrosse is a niche sport," says Kelly. "We're unique from the aspect that we're looking for lacrosse players nationwide to create a career path for them." And they have for many.

Who knows if this new networking will ultimately grow the game as some pretty good players and future parents of young laxers are relocated around the globe working for Smartlink. But that would be fine with Kelly who gives back to the game whenever possible and expects the same of his people.

"One thing I like about Brendan is that you always know exactly where he's coming from, whether it's lacrosse or business," McQueeny says. "He's one of the most passionate, driven guys I know, but also one of the most generous."

The 2007 Pinball Tournament featured a fundraising effort by Kelly and other Smartlink folks.
Below - Kelly addresses kids at the tournament.

July 18, 2007


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