Seagull Grounded

Seagull+Grounded

Salisbury University is located almost 30 minutes away from Ocean City, Maryland.  Aside from that, there doesn’t seem to be many reasons to attend the school.  The town of Salisbury is small and worn down.  The school itself is expensive for mid-level facilities.  If you play lacrosse, however, Salisbury University is the place one aspires to attend.

When I was offered a chance to play for the Seagulls midway through my junior year of high school, I jumped at the chance.  I honestly wasn’t given much of a choice.  When the spot was offered, Coach Berkman gave me three days to take the offer or leave it.  I really didn’t have much of a choice to not jump for it.

Who’s Coach Berkman? Well, for the sports fan, think of all of the best coaches in every league.  Bill Belichick in the NFL.  Gregg Poppovich in the NBA.  Geno Auriemma in college basketball.  Jim Berkman is on par with each and every name I just listed.  Since taking over Salisbury lacrosse in 1989, he has won 19 conference championships and 12 national championships.  As of this year, he has won over 550 games with only 65 losses.  Before 2018, every single person that he had recruited had at least one national championship win.  He is the gold standard of lacrosse.

Now, Salisbury is not a Division I school. It’s actually a Division III institution. But when you are a Division III powerhouse 20 minutes from the beach with a hall-of-fame caliber coach, who wouldn’t be impressed?

I arrived at Salisbury in the fall of 2018, along with 15 other freshman commits.  I was nervous to be starting college in a completely new state with people from all over the country, but I was eager for the opportunity to prove myself on the field.  In my mind, I had already proved to Coach Berkman that I could play.  I just needed to show him that I could contribute to his next group of champions.

In my first meeting on campus with Coach Berkman, we were setting expectations for the kind of fitness level that he needed me to be at.  I explained to him that I was arriving on campus at 210 lbs. and with the right fitness plan I thought that I could get to a lean 225.  He looked at me in absolute shock, like I was crazy for even bringing that up.  He told me that instead of going up, he wanted me to go down in weight.  And not just a few pounds.  He expected me to drop 30 pounds in a two-month window.  He said that it would make me faster.

Now, imagine this.

You’re practicing four days a week.  Sometimes, there are two practices in one day.  You are also expected to lift six days a week.  On top of that, you are expected to do extra stick work every day to make sure your stick.  Now, this may seem like a lot but I knew what I was in store for when I committed.  This wasn’t news to me.

The news to me was that I had to do all of this while essentially not eating at all.

I had never been on a diet before.  I never had to.  I was always a relatively skinny kid.  I was a skinny kid when I walked onto Salisbury’s campus.  There was no reason for me to be on a diet.  I basically didn’t eat for two entire months.  Think back to your own first experiences with college.  Sure, it’s exciting.  But isn’t it stressful?  Your class load picks up right when you don’t want it to.  You’re meeting new people and feeling overwhelmed.  You’re away from home for the first time.  It’s an incredibly stressful period in anyone’s life.

What do people do when they’re stressed?  They eat their body weight in junk?

Could I eat at all? Not really.

In a period of my life when I was fighting for a chance to play and struggling with an increasingly difficult class load, I also had to fight my butt off to lose 30 pounds that I really didn’t have to lose.

Over the two-month fall ball period at Salisbury, to say I struggled was an understatement.  I was close to failing three different classes.  I never studied in high school and was facing difficulties trying to learn how to study for courses that I had zero interest in taking.  I had a girlfriend who was still at home and she made me feel incredibly guilty, consciously or not, for leaving and going to a school three hours away. I wasn’t sure how to put her mind at ease about it and it took away from my concentration level.

On top of all of the normal college difficulties, I was competing on a National Champion caliber lacrosse team not for a chance to play, but for the chance to actually be on the team.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that.  What Berkman had failed to tell me when he pressured me into my commitment was that my spot on the team was absolutely not set in stone.  Instead, I had to compete with the other 89 kids he brought into fall ball for a chance to play for the Seagulls.  And I was competing down 30 pounds and all the energy that food would usually bring you.

When fall ball concluded around Halloween time, I was brought into Coach Berkman’s office once again to discuss my performance and the next steps moving forward.  Now, a few of my friends had already been cut, so that’s what I figured was about to happen.  As we talked, he said that my performance was extremely disappointing and that he expected more of me when I arrived.  It clearly did not matter to him that I was playing well below my playing weight. He just needed me to be better, which I tried incredibly hard to do.  I wasn’t blind, I could see everybody else playing better than I was.  I just knew that it didn’t have to be that way.

Surprisingly, I was not cut by Coach Berkman.  Instead, he told me something that, in my mind, was much worse.

“We’re going to keep you around, but I don’t see any way in the next four years you stepping on the field for me.  You can stay or you can go. It’s up to you”

Oh, its up to me?  Thank Jim.  You might as well have just cut me.

Coach Berkman gave me three days to commit, made me lose 30 pounds while I tried to compete for a spot, and then didn’t really care if I stayed or go.

For me, that was it.  I was done with Salisbury.  I was leaving the next chance I got.  It was the most confusing, frustrating, upsetting, and horrible time in my life.  This was college? The most exciting time in our life?  Everybody was lying through their teeth.

As the semester ended, I came to terms with the fact that I had to transfer.  I wasn’t sure what I was looking for.  I kind of rushed the college process the first time.  But if there is anything that I can take away from Salisbury, it was that I knew what I didn’t want.  And it also gave me my inspiration back.  I wasn’t playing lacrosse anymore to get to a good school.  I was playing to show Coach Berkman he was wrong.