Navy coach Richie Meade hears from longtime alumni that goalkeeper Mickey Jarboe might be the best in academy history. Others foresee a first-team All-America slot for him.
Yet rewind four years back to Calvert Hall, and the only spot reserved for Jarboe was on the sideline. As a perennial backup to classmate Strider Dickson, he started seven games in his three-year varsity career and even contemplated a position change.
But in Annapolis, the only change involving Jarboe has been in the Navy record books. Already the academy's all-time career saves leader as a junior, he is just a long clearing pass away from Navy's single-season mark as he leads the Midshipmen into their first NCAA tournament match in five years, against No. 7 Hofstra in Providence, R.I., tomorrow.
"He's played through a lot of adversity in high school," said Jarboe's father, John. "He knew he was good enough to play college lacrosse, and his dream was always to become a Division I goalie. He didn't waver from that."
He did, however, bend slightly.
After splitting starts with Dickson in their sophomore year, Jarboe received hints from then-Calvert Hall coach Mike Thomas that Dickson would be the full-time starter.
So Jarboe picked up a short stick and tested his offensive skills in a winter indoor league.
He even tried out as a midfielder for the Cardinals -- for about a week.
"I was playing pretty well, but that was in the gym," said Jarboe, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound Towson native. "So it was kind of close in there and weren't so many hits. The next day, we went out onto the field. That's when my size kind of mattered a little bit."
So in his final two years at Calvert Hall, Jarboe's playing time dwindled to pre-game warm-ups. He cracked the starting lineup just twice behind Dickson, who just finished his college career at Brown, coincidentally tomorrow's first-round site.
Jarboe's seasons boiled down to summer camps.
For two years, he attended Charley Toomey's goalkeeping camp at Washington College. For two years, Toomey noticed Jarboe's name popping up at the top of the drill evaluations.
Toomey, then a Navy assistant, was impressed by Jarboe's soft hands, quickness and vocal leadership and joined Maryland in a not-so-heated recruiting effort.
"I knew something was amiss," said Toomey, who is now an assistant at Loyola. "He wanted to be great, but was being overshadowed where he was. And I'm not surprised about what he's doing down there now."
Jarboe leads the nation in save percentage at .666. He ranks sixth in goals-against-average with 8.04.
For good measure, he's matched his high school career starts with seven games of 20-plus saves in his Navy career. He has also made 547 career stops -- the best in Navy's 93-year lacrosse history -- and this season's total of 201 is 35 shy of another academy record.
"He gives us a chance to beat anybody," Meade said. "He makes all the saves that he's supposed to make. But the difference between a real good goalie and a great goalie is that he steals some saves that should be goals. And that's what he's been able to do."
Not to mention instill confidence.
"I'll let any offensive player take a shot from 15 yards on Mickey," defenseman Chad Donnelly said. "I'll put my money down on Mickey every time."
And how about the point-blank, one-on-one variety?
"I'll be up top, turn inside to watch the play unfold and have nothing to do about it," Donnelly said. "You sit there and he makes the save. Everyone's mouths just drop. The amount of times he stops people from 3 yards out is amazing."
"Looking from the sideline, you see some of his saves and you're like: `That was a good save.' Then sometimes, you can't say anything because you're in awe," midfielder and longtime friend Adam Borcz said. "You're like, `Did he just save that?' "
Then the game thrusts Jarboe back to his short-lived midfield career as he scoops the ball and looks to clear.
Running out beyond the restraining line, he often catches the opposition off guard with a stick fake or an effortless dodge as he quickly pushes the ball to the offensive end.
It's done almost as quickly as his rise from a no-name backup to one of the nation's best.
"It actually wasn't like I wanted to start here so I could prove it to everybody," Jarboe said. "I just wanted to go out and play my game. I think it's worked out well. I think I've surprised some people."