Andy Towers may have may come closest to distilling the characteristics of the best lacrosse players from Texas.
While coaching at Dartmouth, the current Premier Lacrosse League coach described Division 1 lacrosse recruits coming out of Texas as “hyper-competitive, athletic, tough and hard-nosed”.
The 14 Texans listed below have all excelled in Division 1 college lacrosse; and all exemplify those traits.
It’s been suggested that these characteristics are to some degree environmental.
Texas lacrosse players generally start later than their counterparts in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, and are therefore less likely to develop comparable offensive skills.
That, and a pervasive football culture steeped in contact and field awareness, tend to steer Lone Star players toward defensive positions.
Here again, the players listed here tend to bear that theory out.
Almost all not only participated in, but excelled within, the state’s legendarily talented high school football ranks; and this holds true for prototypical gridiron specimens like Chris Hipps (6’4, 220) and Cade Saustad (6’5, 200) to, less obviously, 5’10 Foster Huggins, or the 5’7 Dickenson twins.
This list also skews heavily to defense, with 4 goalies and 6 defensemen.
That defensive orientation has also been helped along by some elite coaching.
One example is the Iron Horse Lacrosse program run by longtime Dallas Jesuit coach Chris Surran.
A former Syracuse All-American goalie and member of two national championship teams, Surran has provided intensive training sessions for goalies in the Dallas area.
Surran’s trainees include several of the Dallas-area players on the list below, such as Colby Kneese, Dan Morris, and Christian Carson-Banister (who is now a coach with Iron Horse).
Surran’s program has attracted participants from other parts of the state as well, and even from Oklahoma.
Texas’s Crossover Football-Lacrosse Culture
Exposure to the Texas’s hothouse football culture tends to have added benefits for Texas D1 lacrosse players: unflappability and fearlessness.
ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich has pointed out both the poise and clutch play at the D1 level of Texans accustomed to the emotionally charged atmosphere of the state’s “Friday Night Lights” showcases.
It’s not hard to understand how this kind of pressure, if finessed, might inoculate a young athlete.
Brandon Mullins, for instance, played linebacker for Coppell High School in an epic 41-40 Class 5A championship game loss to Euless Trinity.
The game was watched in person by an overflow crowd—overflowing, that is, at a stadium that seated 12,600.
Beyond that the game was also carried on live TV—to an audience of almost 100,000.
Brandon Mullins starred at Coppell High in suburban Dallas on a team that included several future Division 1 lacrosse players, including Tyler Landis (Brown), Nate Hruby (Air Force), and Sam Johnston (High Point).
And just to be clear, this was Coppell’s football team—a team that competed for a regional title in the state’s murderously competitive Class 5A, also the state’s largest.
The 6’3, 225-pound Mullins was the Associated Press Defensive Player of The Year for Class 5A, and received football scholarship offers from Notre Dame, TCU, Boise State, Texas, and Oklahoma.
Mullins instead chose Syracuse—and lacrosse.
Mullins’s subsequent success, and that of many others in Coppell, is a testament to the missionary work done by Ross Bolling, a Coppell resident and former All-American attackman at Army during the early 70’s. (Bolling had started a club lacrosse program in Coppell in 1994, yet another example, as in California, of service academy grads and military personnel helping to popularize the game).
Even so, as with many players from non-traditional lacrosse areas, Mullins faced a formidable learning curve in transitioning to D-1 play; but he started at close defense the last 10 games of his freshman season (2013).
In his sophomore year, Mullins was second-team USILA All-American, All-ACC, and ACC All-Tournament.
He repeated the ACC honors his junior year, but now was also an USILA first-team All-American, and a Tewaaraton Award nominee.
Mullins was again Tewaaraton nominee his senior year at SU, a second-team USILA All-American, and again, both All-ACC and a member of the conference’s All-Tournament team.
After a stint in the MLL, Mullins now plays in the Premier Lacrosse League.
A graduate of Plano High School, Palesky had 544 saves in his 3 years as a West Point starter (he spent a year behind Team USA goalie Tom Fullerton).
A USILA Honorable Mention All-American as junior in 2010, Palesky is best known for his performance in one of the NCAA’s tournament’s greatest opening round upsets, a 9-8 double overtime victory by the cadets against two-time defending national champion Syracuse.
Palesky had 13 saves in that victory (he’d had 21 in a regular season game loss to SU).
Just to put Army’s (and Palesky’s) victory in perspective, it marked the first tournament win by the Cadets since 1993.
Conversely, it also marked Syracuse’s first tournament loss in The Carrier Dome since 1991.
Morris is another D1 player mentored by Chris Surran.
Surran recognized D1 potential in the hand speed Morris displayed as early as the 8th grade, and ultimately introduced the Dallas Jesuit goalie to Maryland coach John Tillman.
At Maryland, Morris’s patience would initially be tested more than his reaction time.
He sat on the bench—-first behind All-American Niko Amato, and then Kyle Bernlohr of Ohio, winner of the Kelly Award as the nation’s best goalie in 2015, and an All-American in 2015.
But Morris made the most of his two years off the bench.
He started all 19 games in Maryland’s 2017 season, and had 11 saves in the Terps’ NCAA championship victory over Ohio State.
Morris also finished Maryland’s championship season as an Honorable Mention Inside Lacrosse All-America, a member of the NCAA All-Tournament Team and Big Ten All-Tournament Team.
The next year, as Maryland’s captain, Morris was a USILA Honorable Mention All-America selection, and named Second Team All-Big Ten.
A former player in MLL, Morris is now a member of the Whipsnakes in the PLL.
Highland Park’s football heritage extends back to Heisman Trophy winner and 50’s NFL star Doak Walker to, more recently, Matthew Stafford and MLB’s Clayton Kerhsaw (who played center under Stafford).
Saustad is the latest in a line of athletes, such as Chris Hipps, who embody the best in both the school’s football and lacrosse traditions.
Saustad capped his football career with three touchdowns and over 200 yards in receptions in the Scots’ victory in the December, 2017 Texas 5A state championship game, which had also once showcased the talents of Brandon Mullins.
In May of 2019, Saustad would excel in another championship game, the NCAA D-1 final pitting Virginia against defending national champion Yale.
Starting at close defense, Saustad played an indispensable role in Virginia’s limiting Yale, the nation’s second-highest scoring offense, to its lowest goal total of the season.
For this and his performances in earlier rounds, Saustad would be chosen for the NCAA All-Tournament Team.
Success at an elite program like Virginia is obviously not uncommon for a player of Saustad’s ability.
After all, Saustad had been judged by Inside Lacrosse the 8th best defender among all incoming freshmen nationally; Recruiting Rundown even had graded him the 9th best recruit overall in the incoming class.
What is unusual is the degree of success Saustad had at a program of Virginia’s caliber as a freshman.
He was a member of a recruiting class at Virginia that both Inside Lacrosse and USA Today would regard as the nation’s best.
Even so, Saustad would make 19 starts at close defense for the Cavaliers, and only he and fellow freshmen Petey LaSalla would have consistent minutes in both the regular season and the tournament.
Four years before Dan Morris would help lead Maryland to a national title, Chris Hipps became the very first Texan to be part of the Division 1 national champion when Duke defeated Syracuse in 2013.
Hipps captained another national champion team the next season, and was third-team All American that year.
Over four years at Duke, Hipps played in 80 games, starting 78 of those at close defense.
The transition to the skill level and speed of the D1 game hadn’t been as traumatic for Hipps as it has been for many players coming from areas outside traditional hotbeds.
Hipps had long tested his skills against competition outside the state, especially as a member of Team Dallas. At a tournament in New Jersey as a high school junior, Hipps found he could match up against an older, highly-regarded opposing attackmen—a Princeton commit.
And as far back as high school, Hipps, at 6-4, 180-pounds demonstrated a football player’s instinct for bringing size and leverage to bear on opposing attackmen.
He’d played on three consecutive state championship football teams at Highland Park, and in his senior year alone caught 86 passes for 1,580 yards and 18 touchdowns.
So Hipps entered Duke with a lacrosse scholarship, but also with an open invitation to join the Blue Devil football team.
And though he would ultimately play for Atlanta Blaze in the MLL, Hipps obviously still felt the tug of football after graduation, spending a season as a transfer playing for SMU.
Montgomery is yet another on this list who seemed fated to go D1—in football.
His father had played alongside Michael Strahan at Texas Southern, and Nakeie himself set records at Episcopal School of Dallas for rushing touchdowns. He had, in fact, originally committed to Duke to play both football and lacrosse.
His lacrosse credentials were also impressive.
He had 314 career points at midfield for ESD, and graduated as a UA All-American selection and ranked as the nation’s #9 overall recruit by Inside Lacrosse.
While it seems absurd to talk about the unrealized potential of an All-American, in Montgomery’s case at least, it makes sense.
Yes, he finished his sophomore 2019 season as a USILA All-America third team. But he’d begun that 2019 season hampered by a hamstring injury severe enough to keep him out of the first two games.
That said, Montgomery’s full potential, at first seen only sporadically, has increasingly been on display. He’s demonstrated a happy knack for explosive scoring runs, especially in the clutch.
As a freshman, he began NCAA tournament play with 8 career points; he then proceeded to score eight times in the first three rounds of the tournament.
In the quarterfinals against Johns Hopkins, he scored twice in less than a minute.
In his sophomore season, Montgomery upped his scoring totals considerably, ending the regular season with 21 goals and 18 assists.
But again, it was his tournament performances that would stand out: he had a hat trick and two assists in a first-round victory against Richmond; and four assists in a quarterfinal win over Notre Dame.
One enduring image of Colby Kneese may be one of complete, soul-crushing failure.
There are times in sport when the events unfolding seem less important than their impact on an individual player’s psyche.
The 2019 NCAA tournament semifinal game between Penn State and Yale provided one of those times.
It was painful to watch the game’s opening minutes. TD Irelan’s total domination of the face-off X, along with PSU’s inept defense, seemed to give Yale virtually unobstructed, point-blank shots on goal.
And PSU’s goalie, Colby Kneese, look liked someone who’d found himself subjected to some sort of dunking booth-style, open-season barrage.
Yale, at one point in the first quarter, led 10-1.
It was especially hard to keep in mind then that Kneese was a premier goalie on a 12-1 team that had won the Big Ten Tournament and spent eight straight weeks that season ranked #1 in the nation.
But Penn State ultimately righted itself, losing a tough, but highly competitive game by a final score of 21-17.
More importantly, Penn State, and Kneese, will both be back in 2020.
The Highland Park grad finished his 2019 junior season as an honorable mention All-American, a member of the Big Ten All-Tournament team, and, for the second straight season, second-team All-Big Ten.
Another ESD grad (and football player) Huggins was rightly considered one of the nation’s best defenseman during his career at Loyola.
As a senior in 2018 he was a Tewaaraton Award candidate, a First Team USILA and Inside Lacrosse All-American, and, for the second time, an All-Patriot League selection—though even these honors don’t really capture just how good he was.
He had been recognized as Loyola’s top defenseman since his sophomore year, meaning, for instance, in a senior season in which he led the nation caused turnovers and turnovers per game, he’d typically done so (as always) against the opposing team’s top attackmen: players like Virginia’s Michael Kraus, Duke’s Justin Guterding, and Shack Stanwick of Johns Hopkins.
He’d also done all this while enduring three career ACL tears.
Originally selected by the Denver Outlaws of the MLL, Huggins now plays for the PLL’s Whipsnakes.
For awhile it seemed that just about every hiring announcement of a D1 defensive coordinator managed to work in some connection with Bear Goldstein.
And not surprisingly.
The 2017 Tiger grad was a first-team All-Ivy defenseman at Princeton who, like Foster Huggins, inevitably drew the opposing team’s toughest match-up.
And his Ivy League opponents at the time included attackmen like Tewaaraton Award winners Ben Reeves (Yale) and Dylan Molloy (Brown), as well as Morgan Cheek (Harvard), Matt Donovan (Cornell), and Devin Dwyer (Harvard).
Goldstein’s evolution as the League’s top cover guy saw him go from honorable mention All-Ivy, to the League’s second team honors, and then, first team.
The St. Mark’s grad (and former Texas football star) was also Princeton’s two-time captain.
And just for the record, his real, legal, given name isn’t “Bear”.
It’s…Sierra Moon. (And to learn the origin of that name you’ll have to listen to a Princeton Sports podcast).
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, aka the MAAC, probably doesn’t come to mind as either a destination (or breeding ground) for top-shelf D-1 lacrosse talent.
Wasserman was a star quarterback at Dallas-area Grapevine Faith who threw for over 2,000 career yards. He was also an All-American and first-team All-State in lacrosse.
A 2018 graduate of Monmouth, Wasserman was also the first player in the school’s history to reach the MLL.
En route, the attackman put up exceptional numbers, becoming the school’s all-time leader in goals (99), game-winning goals (9), hat tricks (14), assists (50), and points (149).
Wasserman’s lacrosse career came full circle when the MLL’s Ohio Machine ceased operations in 2018. In the 2019 Relocation Draft, he was selected by, and played for, his new MLL club: The Dallas Rattlers.
Another Chris Surran protégé, Carson-Banister is a rare example of a D1 star, in lacrosse or any sport, that did not start on his or her high school team (at Jesuit he sat behind Dan Morris).
As he had with Morris, Surran also had a hand in steering Carson-Banister to his chosen school: Boston University.
Playing time at BU was hardly an issue; nor was he lacking for action in his end.
During the team’s 2-11 season, he was subjected to an almost relentless trial by fire (including a barrage of 41 shots on goal in a game against defending national champion Duke).
Still, he held up well enough to be recognized, as a freshman, as the team’s MVP.
Carson-Banister would start all four seasons at BU. Prior to his junior year in 2016 he would be recognized as an Inside Lacrosse Preseason All-American.
The Terriers had started his senior season with a great deal of promise for BU, then only in its 4th as a D1 program.
Unfortunately an injury sidelined Sam Talkow, one of the all-time best lacrosse players from the state of Florida, and a face-off ace, for the entire season.
Even without Talkow, the Terriers still managed to go 12-5, and Carson-Banister finished his senior year a USILA Third Team All-American, the Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Year, and a unanimous First Team All-Patriot League selection. He also finished third in the country in save percentage (.586).
Carson-Banister now plays for the Dallas Rattlers of the MLL.
Greg Bice was the beneficiary of good timing.
He was recruited by the Ohio State Buckeyes just when the program became fully funded with scholarships.
A rare D1 product of the San Antonio area, but actually one of two in his class at OSU (the other being Mike Murphree, another defenseman out of St. Mary’s).
Bice was a standout at Ohio State, and is still considered one of the program’s premier defenders.
He captained the team in his senior year of 2004, led the Buckeyes to NCAA tournament appearances both his last two years.
In his senior season he was also honored as the Great West Lacrosse League Player of the Year.
The two-time All-American went on to an MLL career that included 13 seasons with the Ohio Machine, and extensive involvement with Lacrosse the Nations, an international non-profit which uses the game as a vehicle for education and life skills training.
Along with fellow OSU alum Anthony Kelly, a Buckeye teammate and one of the all-time best lacrosse players from Ohio, Bice also founded Resolute Lacrosse in Ohio, which operates training programs and travel teams.
Charley and John Dickenson
Though Charley tends to have the edge in terms of both reputation and recognition, it’s hard not to lump the Dickenson brothers together.
In terms of recruiting, they were, by their own description a “package deal”.
And they were, after all, twins.
And in 2006 both came out of Highland Park to play in an all-star game promoted with the faint hope that it might eventually become “lacrosse’s version of the annual McDonald’s All-America game”.
With that, the twins represented the South (and Texas) in the inaugural Under Armour All-American Lacrosse Classic, joining others like Evan Royster, Chris Hogan, Mike Gvozden, Ken Clausen, and California’s Will Yeatman.
That alone should insure their inclusion on this list.
Also, Charley scored twice.
It’s easy as well to discount the Dickensons because they spent three of four seasons with a Pre-Tierney Denver team.
Still, the Pioneers weren’t exactly the pick-up team that seems to be popularly remembered.
Charley and John Dickenson were offensive mainstays on these Pioneer teams as the program transitioned to the national power it has become.
David Parry is the founder and editor of LaxAcrossAmerica. A New York-based digital marketer and copywriter, he played Division 1 lacrosse as a walk-on at Brown.