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Split decision: In lacrosse hotbed, area recruits weigh options of athletic pursuits

first_img Comments Joe Fazio faced a tough decision. At West Genesee High School in Camillus, N.Y., Fazio was a two-sport athlete, dominating the field in both football and lacrosse. But it finally came time for him to make a choice about what sport he would pursue in college. ‘It was actually a long, drawn-out process for me,’ Fazio said. ‘It came down to ‘Do you want to play lacrosse or do you want to play football?” Despite receiving attention from football programs at Syracuse, Virginia, Connecticut and Georgia Tech, the all-state wide receiver ultimately chose Syracuse because of its powerhouse lacrosse program. Though he helped guide West Genesee to the state championship in football as a sophomore in 2007, the lure to play for SU head coach John Desko and compete for national titles was too much to pass up. ‘When you get a program like Syracuse that asked you to play for them,’ Fazio said, ‘it’s tough to turn it down.’AdvertisementThis is placeholder text In recent years, Fazio’s situation has become a growing trend. Central New York is a breeding ground for top-tier lacrosse players, some of whom give up a chance to stay at home and play football for the opportunity to pursue collegiate lacrosse careers. For some, including Fazio, it comes down to playing for a winning program, whether it’s in football or lacrosse. Both sports represent a culture that is unique to Central New York. The longstanding roots both sports have in the area continue to have an effect on the football and men’s lacrosse teams at SU. In some areas of Central New York, especially near Onondaga Nation, lacrosse is still king. In others, football remains the No. 1 sport played among high school athletes. ‘It can go both ways, but in my town, lacrosse would be No. 1,’ said SU midfielder Josh Amidon, a native of Lafayette, N.Y., about 15 minutes south of Syracuse. Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida have the football culture. Central New York has lacrosse. Syracuse has been able to use the popularity of lacrosse in the area to its advantage. Desko remembers when local high school teams, with players he was recruiting, used to play their games at J.S. Coyne Stadium, just outside Manley Field House. That’s the advantage Desko has enjoyed with recruiting in the area. He has also benefited from recruiting dual-sport athletes, many of whom played football in high school. Players from the area, like Fazio, who opted not to pursue a college football career, use their athletic gifts on the lacrosse field instead. Or players like Jovan Miller, a senior on the Syracuse lacrosse team, who was offered a football scholarship to play at SU. But by the time he made his decision to come to Syracuse, the program was void of football scholarships. So he chose a sport at which he was equally talented. ‘Any time you are recruiting someone that is considering football also, athletically you’re barking up the right tree,’ Desko said. ‘Any time you can get a guy that is being looked at for Division I football and we’re looking at him for lacrosse, and he decides to play lacrosse, you’re pretty sure to get a very good athlete.’ Fazio said that because of the early-decision recruiting process, more area players are choosing to focus on a collegiate lacrosse career as sophomores and juniors in high school. By doing that, some of them are essentially taking themselves off the football recruiting radar. Fazio is an example of that. He was a standout on the gridiron, but once he committed to play lacrosse at SU, the football recruiting attention suddenly disappeared. That can have an effect on how Syracuse football recruits in the area. Though the Syracuse lacrosse team benefits largely from recruiting in its own backyard, Doug Marrone’s football team is just beginning to try to take advantage. Desko has 19 players from Central New York on his roster. Marrone has just nine. And that’s not because there haven’t been quality players coming from the area, either. Greg Paulus, the 2004 Gatorade High School Player of the Year went to Duke to play basketball. Mike Hart, a 2004 graduate of Onondaga High School in Syracuse, went on to become Michigan’s all-time leading rusher. In an effort to get the area’s top football prospects, one of the first things Marrone did when he arrived was put an emphasis on recruiting from the Syracuse area. ‘When we came in two years ago,’ said Greg Adkins, Marrone’s recruiting coordinator, ‘we basically made a commitment to recruit from the inside out. We were going to start with the close proximity of Syracuse University and work our way out. Anything within five hours from here was going to be a main in-state area.’ Adkins and Marrone realize it isn’t going to happen overnight, but one of their main recruiting priorities will be to get the top kids in the area, with much of the same success Desko has had over the years. A large part of that comes with winning, naturally. ‘The bottom line,’ Adkins said, ‘is that kids want to see teams that are winning.’ Adkins credits the increased success the football team has experienced on the field this season with some of the recruiting class that has already committed for next season. That class already includes six three-star recruits, according to The Orange (7-3, 4-2 Big East) secured bowl eligibility for the first time since 2004 last weekend with a win at Rutgers. At his weekly press conference Monday, Marrone emphasized that this is just the start of what he and his staff believe could be the return to the glory days of SU football. And Syracuse already has commitments from three Central New York football recruits for next season. It’ll surely take some time to get to Desko’s level, competing for national titles each year and receiving commitments from the region’s best. But it’s a start. Fazio admits he’s impressed by what he’s seen from Marrone and his squad this season and believes local dual-sport football and lacrosse players may have to do a double-take when mulling over which SU team to play for. Now there’s another sport to consider. ‘Definitely,’ Fazio said. ‘They definitely would have to strongly consider football now.’ [email protected] Published on November 17, 2010 at 12:00 pmcenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more