If a high school athlete excels at their sport, it’s not unusual for them to continue playing after they graduate.
Players do their best to find a place in the college ranks, perhaps even with a school affiliated with the National College Athletic Association. At local schools it happens with athletes in many sports, including football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer and others.
Wiregrass Ranch High School can now add lacrosse to that list.
Although the lacrosse program at the school is just four years old, Wiregrass Ranch now has its first player recruited by an NCAA school.
Senior Jeffrey Handman is a goalie for the Bulls’ lacrosse team, and has committed to play for Lincoln Memorial University, a Division II school located in Harrogate, Tenn. He’ll head up there with an athletic scholarship and a desire to be part of the new lacrosse program for the Railsplitters.
But if he had been a little better at a different sport, none of it would have happened.
“I decided that I wasn’t good enough to play high school baseball, so I decided to give lacrosse a try,” Handman said. “If I could hit a baseball I probably never would have played lacrosse.”
Fortunately, he picked up a stick and eventually found himself defending the goal. Now he has a new favorite sport and a desire to make an impact at the next level.
Lacrosse, a sport where teammates use sticks to pass and catch a rubber ball while trying to score on the opponents’ goal, is popular at the collegiate level and up north. It’s also working its way into high schools and local clubs.
Wiregrass Ranch began its own program back in 2011. That’s the same year Handman first entered the school, picked up a lacrosse stick and gave a new sport a try. And at goalie, he found a position that makes the most of his talents and allows him to excel.
Handman isn’t a boastful athlete. He takes honest stock of his abilities, and finds ways to maximize them on the field.
“Being a goalie, you have to be quick,” Handman said. “I’m not fast. I’m not going to dazzle any one with a 40 (yard dash), but I’m quick reaction-wise.”
He might have been late to the game, but once he got involved with lacrosse, Handman enjoyed it so much he found other outlets where he could participate. He’s a member of New Tampa Chill, a club league that participates in the Florida Gulf Coast Lacrosse League as part of New Tampa Lacrosse. He also referees lacrosse games for youth leagues in places like Wesley Chapel, South Tampa and New Tampa.
Handman eventually wants to coach the sport when he’s done playing, but before that happens, he’ll test his skills against Division II competition.
It wasn’t an easy path, however, going from being a first-time player to finding a spot with a college team. Unlike football, Central Florida isn’t known as a magnet for lacrosse scouts.
“Florida’s not a hotbed for the sport. Especially not Tampa,” Handman said.
The sport is growing and the players are enthusiastic and talented, but even a good player can’t afford to just sit back and wait for offers. And according to Wiregrass Ranch lacrosse coach Garrett Linquist, Handman isn’t the type to be passive and hope things go his way.
Handman approached his coaches and asked what he should be doing to give himself a good chance to play at the next level.
“He’s one of those kids who wanted to go and play in college,” Linquist said. “He went to a lot of good recruiting camps, he played for Team Florida (where Linquist also coached), and that was a great opportunity. He had a little bit more drive to go through the process.”
The process included filming his games, making a highlight video, and sending it to around 100 different coaches, Handman said. But his perseverance paid off, and he’ll be both playing lacrosse and studying business at Lincoln Memorial.
While Handman is proud of his accomplishments, he didn’t get this far by resting on his laurels. When he gets to college, he’ll show up with the same drive he used to stand out when tackling a new sport.
“I actually put more pressure on myself than other people. Personally, I feel the pressure to succeed. That’s my goal,” Handman said. “I’m not going to play college athletics up in Tennessee to sit on the bench for four years or not try my hardest to compete.”
Published April 23, 2014