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2009 E-Lacrosse Feature: College walk-ons

Question: I was just wondering if I went to a college that had a lacrosse team, is it still possible to join? Even though I wasn't offered a scholarship or something? If it's a stupid question, sorry! - T.J.

Answer: T.J., That's not a stupid question at all. Many schools that have varsity programs have some "walk-ons" try out for the team. Now, not too many make the Hopkins or Syracuse squads. But I would say that many teams have a walk-on player or two. I spoke to Binghamton head coach Ed Stephenson and he gave me many more details on walk-on opportunities at Division I schools. Binghamton is familiar to those in Baltimore as they are in the America East conference along with UMBC. Ed may be familiar to many in Baltimore because he was a star defenseman at Dulaney High School and then Towson before coaching at Towson, UMBC, Hobart and then Binghamton.

Some schools have a roster cap and that means that walk-ons are only needed if attrition leaves the team heading into the fall or spring season knowing they won't reach the cap with the recruited players they have on campus. Some kids drop out, transfer, need to hit the books or whatever, but a spot isn't filled and tryouts for those spots are held. Ed said that it sounds like a rarity, but most years something happens and there's an opening.

Many schools have no cap and they may hold tryouts every year for walk-ons. The key is to walk on, but not be a stranger. Call the coach before the season and ask them if there are walk-ons. He may not know yet, but they will all be honest with you about the chances of tryouts occurring or making the team generally. Remember, he doesn't know you're all that, so he will be skeptical about your chances and rightfully so.

Making the team is a different story. It's much harder to be noticed because they did not recruit you, but it is not totally impossible. Be prepared. Show up in great shape and hustle your butt off. Be the ground ball guy on top of everything else you do well. That is something they cannot ignore. It will be every little thing adding up that makes you the guy. And quite often, they only need one guy.

This year at Binghamton, Stephenson had one open spot. Eight players showed interest. All were in previous contact with the team. It's not like you just walk on, by the way. After the proper NCAA forms and clearances were completed and physicals were given, Binghamton was down to five trying out for one spot. By today, after only a few one-hour sessions, there are two young men fighting for that spot. The three cut were, in the Stephenson's words, "fine players." One was an all-county player from a great lacrosse hotbed.

But Stephenson also says to "be yourself." A walk-on player doesn't have to be a support guy or just a hustle guy. Two years ago, Stephenson had a walk-on score eight or nine goals for the team. He also said that a walk-on player, once he makes the team, is just a player. He is still just as responsible to make grades, curfews, meals and adhere to whatever requirements the rest of the team follows.

I asked if there was any stigma attached to being a walk-on once you make the team and Stephenson said there was not. They may respect the effort more, but otherwise the walk-on player is welcomed by the team and treated like any other player. Stephenson said that once you've made the team, you are equal, but before that, you are not. If there is no opening, there are no tryouts at most roster-capped schools and a walk-on wouldn't likely bump a recruited player, even at a school with no roster cap. But they can keep both if they want.

It is important to call ahead to the coach before planning a walk-on in any case and at any school. If you are heading off to an NCAA DI, DII or DIII institution or a school with a college club program in the MCLA or NCLL, it is best to communicate before just showing up to even an advertised tryout. If you communicate early enough, you can really get a good impression of the scenario before it's too late to sign up for the school's club team, intramural league or even a local club team. You can play some kind of lacrosse at almost any college in America these days!

September 4, 2008
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