Virginia Freshman Griffin Schutz headlines the rankings, the first 3d New England player to ever rank No. 1 in the country
By Danny Priest
Griffin Schutz hasn’t played a collegiate lacrosse game yet for the University of Virginia, but the No. 1 ranked recruit in the Inside Lacrosse 2021 class rankings already has a career’s worth of accolades.
Beyond his status at Deerfield Academy as a four-time varsity letter winner, team captain, 2021 National Champion and 2021 National All-Star Game MVP, there’s a simpler way to view the Trumbull, Conn. native.
Schutz is a worker. So much so, Schutz brought a weight bench with him to his dorm room at Deerfield, nestling it in amongst his bed, clothes and other belongings.
Why? Because he just wanted to get better, the same way he always has since he was young.
Schutz played club lacrosse for 3d Lacrosse New England throughout his high school career. He ended his career as the top-ranked player in this class, the first 3d New England product to rank No. 1 in the country.
He’s far from the only 3d standout arriving on the college lacrosse scene, though. While 3d New England regularly produces top-tier talent, 2021 reached a new level. Five of its players ranked among Inside Lacrosse’s 75 best players in the 2021 class.
No. 1 – Griffin Schutz A, Virginia, Deerfield Academy
No. 29 – Kade Goldberg M, Georgetown, Deerfield Academy
No. 54 – George Fulton D, Virginia, Middlesex School
No. 63 – Joe Dowling M, Harvard, Deerfield Academy
No. 75 – Tommy Stull LSM, Richmond, Deerfield Academy
In all likelihood, 2021 is just the beginning. The club has more high-level talent project in the pipeline for 2022, 2023, and beyond.
“I think one of the threads that runs through all these guys was just how great of teammates they were, and I think one of the things Pete (Sessa) and I always try to do is not just put together an all-star team but put together a team of kids that really love to compete together and for each other,” said Matt Rowley, the National Director of 3d Lacrosse.
Rowley works closely with Pete Sessa, the New England director, in putting these teams together.
Both have acclaimed lacrosse backgrounds and a wealth of experience, but their primary focus now is on helping the kids within the program reach the college level by surrounding them with top-tier coaching and opportunities on and off the field.
“We challenge them,” Sessa said.
“When they were younger, we’d have our grades play against each other in practice and training. So, as good as they might be at their grade or age, they were also having to go compete at times in drills against kids who were two years older than them. I think that really helps drive their level,”
The five players listed above bought into the philosophy right away.
“It’s their willingness to break down the barrier of playing ‘me ball’ and making it ‘we ball,’” Sessa said. “In any club, when you’re playing in the top 25 rankings or whatever it is, that’s something where you have to play for each other and not for themselves.”
“I think it’s a hard thing to do, especially in high school club lacrosse where everyone’s got their eyes, and rightfully so, fixated on their own college process. How do you take that and build a team that really wants to go out and compete together and be selfless?” Rowley said.
Strong coaching, a desire to be great, and developing kids off the field has led to a very successful formula for 3d New England.
“I think that’s one of the things that Pete specifically has done a really good job of is building these cultures and highly competitive, individualized atmospheres that allows our guys to go out and be competitive and be great teammates. I think that carries through into college when they’re able to be leaders and great teammates,” Rowley said.
It’s the small things that count. Picking up water bottles, cleaning up trash from the sidelines after the game, being a great teammate and so much more. 3d New England intentionally builds up character and camaraderie and it carries over to the next level.
The philosophy is in place and the results on the field for the player’s is what makes it all worth it.
What's a TOP 10 Men's College Lacrosse Recruit doing with a woman's stick🥍 and tennis ball🎾? @UVAMensLax Head Coach @lars_tiffany talks about the dedication of incoming freshman attackman Griffin Schutz. @Deerfield_Lax
📺Full interview with Tiffany: https://t.co/c3VWm9u7XS pic.twitter.com/srED35uYVz
— Lax Sports Network (@LaxSportsNet) December 21, 2021
Griffin Schutz: No. 1 In The Nation
At 6-foot-3, 220-pounds it’s hard to miss Griffin Schutz.
Despite his monstrous frame, Schutz has a quiet personality. He rarely posts on social media and he maintains a tight circle of friends. He’s more interested in honing his craft than self-promotion.
“If you go look at the field, your eyes go to him first, every time,” Sessa said. “The stuff you don’t see is his work ethic. He’s one of the hardest workers that we’ve had in our program. All these guys are in their own way, but he really is the product of the weight room and just makes a continuous effort to be better.”
For all the success he’s had, according to Rowley, Schutz is still as humble as they come.
“Griffin wasn’t one of those guys who would go into a game and felt like he had to get five points,” Rowley said. “He just wanted to play good lacrosse and he understood that. He was never selfish to the point where he felt like he had to beat a triple team or score a goal. He was happy to make the right play at the right time.”
In a few ways, Schutz was the perfect headliner for a loaded 3d New England team. His stoic demeanor kept him from overshadowing the other talented individuals on the team.
“We had to tell him to do more sometimes,” Sessa said.
“We’d be like, ‘Dude, you got to go, we’re down a couple goals here, get us going big boy, get us started.’ That’s how coachable he was and that’s how humble he was. He would never bang his chest and say I’m the greatest. It’s quite the opposite. He wasn’t someone that was trying to post himself more to get more recognition. That’s why it’s kind of funny that they chose him as No. 1.”
Sessa is close with Schutz and played a prominent role in helping him land at Virginia.
“I can’t tell you how many nights I was texting with him about foot placement or hand placement and he would send me videos where I would give him feedback,” Sessa said.
“He wanted to be coached all the time. He wants to be great. Him being No. 1 in the class is really deserving and we’re proud of him, but it doesn’t mean anything until you go out and do it. He knows that and that’s the best part.”
Kade Goldberg: The Swiss Army Knife
When asked about the 5-foot-8 Georgetown midfielder Kade Goldberg, both Rowley and Sessa immediately cracked a smile.
“Swiss Army knife,” Rowley said. “Kade can do everything. He’s extremely competitive, he knows how to win, and he’s a great teammate. He’s just an awesome kid in the huddle, other kid’s really rally around him. He’s extremely skilled, but also in terms of athletic IQ, it’s one of the highest we’ve had come through this program in a while.”
Goldberg played alongside Schutz at Deerfield Academy and had a magnificent senior season, scoring 16 goals and tallying 24 assists. He captured the Ramsey award – annually given to the boy or girl varsity midfielder at Deerfield who excels in all facets of the most difficult position.
Sessa believes Goldberg’s explosiveness and versatility can be deployed anywhere at Georgetown.
“Where are they going to place him? It could change four times over the course of his career because he has that ability,” Sessa said.
“He can play man down, he can play man up, he can run off the wings on faceoffs, he can be a first line midfielder, he can be a first line defensive middie, he can play attack, he can dodge from behind the cage and he can dodge from above the cage. He is really a full skillset player and there aren’t many who are like that.”
George Fulton: The Leader
George Fulton will line up with Schutz at Virginia this spring, but for a while, his recruitment process was slower than most.
It wasn’t until Fulton visited Virginia and went over some X’s and O’s on the white board with Cavaliers head coach Lars Tiffany that the program knew they really wanted him.
Fulton is one of the most intelligent leaders and communicators both Rowley and Sessa have ever seen.
“It’s something that not a lot of guys have,” Sessa said.
Sessa recalled instances where after 3d New England training sessions or practices, Fulton would command huddles of all the kids. He also recalled a few instances of having to coach against him, which in his own words was, “miserable.”
“He’s a really good coach on the field,” Sessa said. “Anyone can go coach something, but there was actually a deliberate purpose to what their defense was doing based on what our offense was doing on every single play. It was brutal to play against him as a coach.”
It may have taken him a bit longer to get noticed, but at 6-foot-6, Fulton is anything but a small presence on defense for the Cavaliers.
“If he’s not a captain at Virginia I’ll be shocked,” Rowley said. “His brain is really what makes him a great lacrosse player more so than his body. He’s smart, he’s a great communicator, he’s an incredible teammate and leader, he’s just one of the best people you’d ever want to be around.”
Joe Dowling: Freak Athlete
At 6-feet and 170 pounds, Joe Dowling profiles more like a wide receiver on the football field or a lead-off hitter in baseball than an attackman on a lacrosse field.
Despite the physical profile, it doesn’t take long to figure out why schools wanted Dowling. He captained Deerfield as a senior and led the team in points in both 2019 and 2021.
Athletically, there’s one word that describes him best.
“He’s kind of a freak,” Rowley said.
Dowling just moves differently. Skilled and refined in his techniques and understanding of the game, but that eye-popping athleticism makes a major difference.
“He was a really good football player with unbelievable athleticism,” Sessa said.
Sessa recalled that Dowling’s leaping ability – in terms of long and broad jump – were on par with what’s typically seen at the Division I level for football players.
“He’s lighting it up at Harvard right now and he’s getting a ton of recognition for it, but he hasn’t played yet,” Sessa said.
It says a lot about Dowling that he’s making an impression before logging an official collegiate game, but it’s no surprise to those who know his work habits.
“Joe is a true box player first. He’s dedicated his life to being a really good box player and he spent time in Canada playing in different leagues up there just developing his skillset and toughness and being dedicated to it,” Sessa said.
Dowling also built up his body over his four years of high school. He weighed 145 pounds at the start of his career and will check in at 170 to start his collegiate career.
Between his athleticism and drive, the sky is the limit for Dowling.
Tommy Stull: A Lifer
Richmond lacrosse freshman Tommy Stull is someone Rowley and Sessa affectionately refer to as a 3d lifer.
“When Tommy Stull started playing at 3d he was about two-foot nothing and just had tons of energy and incredible skill for the position he plays at,” Rowley said.
Now, the defenseman stands at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds as he prepares for his first season with the Spiders.
“He plays with a really high motor, he’s a great competitor, and there’s just a toughness that just sort of belies his size,” Rowley said.
“He’s electric. He just makes things happen. Positive plays happen when Tommy’s on the field. He’s also really fun to watch, so he plays bigger than his size. He’s got a huge heart and he’s super skilled.”
Sessa thinks Stull’s ability to impact a game transcends the typical defensemen.
“He’s a human highlight reel,” Sessa said. “He’s a defensive player that creates offense at any time on the field. He’s another one where him and George just commanded the defense together really well.”
More To Come
Schutz, Goldberg, Fulton, Dowling, and Stull are proof that the 3d New England philosophy built by Rowley, Sessa, and others works. They are far from the first talented group to emerge from the program and they certainly won’t be the last.
“Our goal is to always have a top five national team if we can,” Sessa said.
“It’s hard to maintain, but you better believe that’s our goal and that’s what we’re trying to do. Covid affected it just like everybody else, but if you go back and look at the history of teams we’ve had, we’ve been lucky enough to have some really strong teams year over year.”
It’s a safe bet these five will succeed at the next level and they certainly won’t be the last ones to make 3d New England proud.