Like any 15-year-old, St. Paul's lacrosse standout Spencer Parks thought the attention was pretty cool.
As a sophomore in 2009, he was coming off an eye-catching summer playing for the Baltimore Crabs club team when St. Paul's coach Rick Brocato called him into his office.
Brocato told Parks that North Carolina had inquired about him, as had Johns Hopkins, Virginia, Syracuse and Maryland. Parks, now a senior, was excited by the news and also taken aback.
Brocato has questions he routinely asks his student-athletes to consider when they begin their quest to find the college they will be spending their four years after high school, but the players before were always juniors and seniors.
What are you looking for in a college experience? Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or little fish in a big pond? Urban or rural?
"And then I throw in: What are you thinking about after college?" said Brocato. "It's all really difficult for a 15-year-old to get his head around."
In the weeks that followed, Parks called the interested schools, went on unofficial visits and before playing a minute of high school varsity lacrosse, made a verbal commitment to North Carolina. In doing so, he became the first high school sophomore lacrosse player in the country to make a verbal commitment. Calvert Hall senior Patrick Kelly committed to North Carolina in the same school year.
According to InsideLacrosse.com, 15 sophomores made commitments last year and the number has ballooned to 64 this year, including seven from the area. It's a trend many associated with the sport call unhealthy.
"Choosing a college is the most important decision for a kid to make at that point in his life. It impacts the job that he may get, who he may end up marrying and having children with," Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "I don't think the trend is good, but I'll preface that with the fact that we do it because we have to in order to remain relevant at the highest level."
Pietramala said college coaches had lengthy discussions about the situation during meetings in December. They have prepared a number of proposals and plan to pass on a recommendation to the NCAA by the summer to possibly change the start of the contact period. Currently, NCAA rules don't allow coaches to reach out to high school players until their junior year. But colleges can reach out to high school coaches, who can then relay the information to the players, who are allowed to contact the school.
Women's lacrosse teams are also starting to target high school players at a younger age, but so far it's less prevalent than it's been with the boys.
"As a coach, you would much rather wait until after his sophomore year to have more time to evaluate him at the varsity level, get a better idea of his character and to better know his family," Pietramala said. "We need to do it as long as the rules say you can in order to stay relevant, but I can say unequivocally that we would support a change."
Boys' Latin attackman Shack Stanwick, regarded as the top player in the 2014 class, is one of nine sophomores who have made a commitment to Hopkins this year. His teammates, Tal Bruno and Hunter Moreland, and McDonogh's Brinton Valis also plan to become Blue Jays.
One of the concerns high school coaches have when a player commits at a younger age is how it will effect his play in his remaining high school years. Will the player remain as motivated?
Stanwick, who enjoyed a fine freshman season on varsity last year, doesn't consider that a problem for him.
"It's definitely a compliment and very humbling [to already have a verbal commitment]. At the same time, you want to stay focused, not let it get to your head and just keep working hard to get better," he said. "Every time you play, you want to win and get better. That's why you're out there — because you love the game. I think it's hard not to be hungry all the time."
Sophomore commitments also have a trickle-down effect that can cause panic, mostly from the late-blooming prospect who doesn't hit full stride until his later high school years.
While the sophomores who garner the instant attention feel the need to make the commitment early when the offer stands, it leaves other players concerned there won't be any scholarship offers left for them.
"I think a lot of conversations are happening with kids too early," McDonogh coach Andy Hilgartner said. "We're talking to these [college coaches] in the fall and winter of their sophomore year, and many of these kids have either not played varsity or if they have, most of them have not been impact guys. So for every sophomore that commits — he feels ready, the parents feel ready and the college feels ready — there are a large group of other kids that are not ready. And then they start to panic and their parents start to panic wondering whether they have missed their chance."