Even some of the all-time best lacrosse players from Florida have had to overcome the stigma.
What exactly has the knock been on Division 1 college lacrosse players from Florida?
Traditionally it’d been that they were a lot like certain kinds of delicate Southern produce; they didn’t seem to travel too well, or at least didn’t seem to retain a lot of their original luster or appeal on reaching their northern or western destinations.
Again, that was at least the rap.
Still, there was seemingly enough substance to the charge that it was taken up in a 2014 article by Brian Davis in Florida Lacrosse News.
And, just to be clear, Davis’s tone wasn’t judgmental.
He stressed instead that given the high levels of competition and sacrifice demanded in D1, each recruit needs to determine which next-level option will truly be his, or her, best fit.
And to be clear once again, Davis found that many of these nominal D1 “washouts” had ended up just fine.
A case in point being St. Andrew’s grad Conor Whipple.
Florida College Lacrosse Recruits and the D3 Option
In the well-worn baseball cliche, a short-term player in the majors lingers just long enough for a cup of coffee—in which case, Conor Whipple was at Georgetown for maybe a short cap and a scone.
His D1 career with the Hoyas lasted only through fall ball.
But Whipple is an excellent lacrosse player.
He’d left St. Andrew’s as the school’s all-time leading scorer, playing a key role in the day Florida lacrosse came of age.
He also would ultimately join the Florida Launch in the MLL.
And he was a also a four-year college All-American.
Only you won’t find him on the list below—and for the simple reason that Tampa, where he played for his father, is in Division II.
Another noteworthy player to fall into this category is Matt Bellando. Bellando, who’d set the Florida’s single-season goal record with 101 coming out of St. Andrew’s, played D1 for two seasons at Stony Brook (where, in his sophomore year in 2012, he had 25 goals).
Bellando transferred to Long Island University in D3 (though LIU has since made the jump to D1 beginning with the 2020 season).
Florida D1 College Lacrosse Destinies
In contrast to Whipple and Bellando, the players listed here did stick it out and did excel at the Division 1 level—though even within this group their circumstances varied tremendously.
Some arrived fully accredited—like Lee Coppersmith, who stepped on to hallowed Homewood Field in Baltimore as the first Floridian recruited by Johns Hopkins.
On the other hand, even “walk-on” may have been too exalted a term for Sergio Salcido.
Salcido gatecrashed his way onto the Syracuse campus out of Florida as a 5’7 recruit whose stated ambition of playing for The Orange had been roundly and widely ridiculed—among coaches and players alike.
Salcido’s story is one of extraordinary persistence and dedication, and like those of the other 6 players listed here, one that tends to upend the traditional (and increasingly dated) stereotype of the D1 Florida lacrosse recruit.
April 3, 2011 marked something of a coming of age for Florida lacrosse.
At the Big City Classic, played that day at the home of the New York Giants, St. Andrew’s School of Boca Raton defeated New Jersey high school colossus Don Bosco.
And in the day’s main event, Johns Hopkins defeated North Carolina, with the game-winning goal put in with less than two minutes to play.
Fittingly, that goal was scored by midfielder Lee Coppersmith of Boca Raton, one of two St. Andrew’s alums on the JHU roster that day (the other being LSM Matt Leighty).
Coppersmith’s talent obviously hadn’t been a secret to coach Dave Pietramala and the Hopkins staff; after all, Coppersmith had been the first player recruited by the Blue Jays from the state of Florida.
But to the Tristate crowd at The Meadowlands that afternoon–and especially, the many who’d trekked in from Pietramala’s native Long Island to watch UNC stars Billy Bitter of Manhasset and Nicky Galasso of West Islip–the two games must’ve been been jarring.
Yes, St. Andrew’s was considered good—but by Florida standards.
And the one-sided records the Scots had compiled must’ve seemed fishy, if not verging on the preposterous.
During Coppersmith’s career, for instance, St. Andrew’s won 4 state championships and had an overall record of 91-7—improving to 43-1 during his junior and senior seasons.
And in fairness, this was by no means the first time St. Andrew’s had held its own against a national power.
One of those losses during Coppersmith’s career had been against Baltimore stalwart McDonogh in 2008—and even then it’d been by a respectable 7-5 final.
But still, because of the game’s proximity to Long Island, the Don Bosco victory marked another notable step in legitimizing not only the St. Andrew’s program, but also the reputation of Florida lacrosse generally.
And though not a D1 star on the order of Syracuse’s Sergio Salcido (who had to face a good deal of Sunshine State skepticism himself), Coppersmith did a lot to further that reputation as well.
Pressed into service on JHU’s first midfield by injuries to John Greeley, Coppersmith vindicated Pietramala’s recruiting gamble, showing the same happy knacks for timely goals he’d demonstrated at The Meadowlands.
And importantly, his clutch play for Hopkins had also come against elite competition: three goals, all in the final 35 minutes, against a second-ranked Virginia team, two goals in an overtime win against Loyola, a 3-goal performance in a 12-11 win over Virginia, the tying goal with 44 seconds remaining in an eventual overtime win against another, top-ranked Virginia team.
Drafted by the Boston Cannons of the MLL in 2013 (and later landing with the league’s Florida Launch), Coppersmith was another Floridian who, along with Eric Cantor, Jack Levine, and Sam Talkow, also played for Team Israel.
Along with Denver’s Trevor Baptiste and Yale’s T.D. Ierlan, Sam Talkow (Pine Crest, Delray Beach) was part of an elite group of D1 players that in recent years has elevated both the profile and prestige of the “face-off specialist”.
Through their sheer dominance, this latest wave has brought the face-off specialist into legitimate contention for the Tewaaraton Award—college lacrosse’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
And through their stick finesse and demonstrated ability to score, the group had largely shaken free of the pejorative FOGO (Face-off, Get-off) tag that had long defined the specialist role.
That role had traditionally managed to combine the worst of several worlds: the often lightly regarded, part-time specialization of, say, baseball’s DH position, along with the grueling, physically excruciating demands of being a day-to-day baseball catcher or football center.
In fact, it was precisely the kind of upper-body injury to which face-off men are especially prone that cost Talkow his entire senior season at Boston University (2017).
(Unfortunately 2017 had been expected to breakout season for Talkow and BU; the entire class of seniors had been part of the program’s harrowing first year as freshmen, and were now a formidable unit. In addition to Talkow, BU that season featured middie Cal Dearth, and in goal, one of the all-time best D1 lacrosse players from Texas, Christian Carson-Bannister).
But even robbed of that final season, Talkow had gained considerable attention at an unheralded position.
Like Baptiste and Ierlan, he’d managed to work himself into the Tewaaraton Award conversation, entering his senior season named First Team All-Patriot League, an Inside Lacrosse honorable mention All-American (for the second straight year), and, as well, on the Tewaaraton Watch List.
Takow had ended his junior season ranked third in face-off win percentage with a rate just short of 70%.
Overall percentages aside, Talkow’s impact on individual games could be incalculable.
Against Bucknell, for instance, he once won 20 of 23 face-offs; against Providence in 2016, he won 16 of 18.
As noted above, Talkow is also one of several Floridians who competed internationally as a member of Team Israel.
Tierney Field is located on the grounds of the U.S. Lacrosse training facility in Sparks, Maryland.
A game played there in 2017 pitted defending national champion Maryland against the U.S. national team.
The game also brought together for the first time in a competitive setting three players who collectively comprise almost half of this list.
Then again, anytime and anywhere the three Bernhardt brothers come together they represent a certain percentage of the best players not only in Florida, but also the nation, and the world.
Their father, Jim Bernhardt, who died in June, 2019, had been a Florida transplant, having grown up on Long Island and playing both college lacrosse and football at Hofstra.
Jim Bernhardt would go on to coach football at the high school level in both New York and Florida, and at a succession of colleges including Brown, Hofstra, Central Florida, and Penn State. He ultimately became Director of Football Research for the NFL’s Houston Texans.
All three brothers would excel at both football and lacrosse at Lake Brantley High School, and both Jake and Jesse have followed their father into coaching—Jake as an assistant to Chris Feifs at Vermont, and Jesse under head coach John Tillman at Maryland.
The oldest of the trio, Jake began the family’s association with Maryland.
The entree to Maryland the upper reaches of D1 lacrosse had initially been provided Dave Cottle.
Then the coach at Loyola, Cottle sponsored at a three-day summer camp in Orlando when Jake and Jesse were just picking up the game.
It was also at time when Florida offered little in the way of travel teams or leagues.
Jake captained the Terps in both 2012 and 2013, was a two-time USILA All-American midfielder, and a member of the 2018 Team USA.
In 2012 , Jake became the first player from Florida to be drafted by an MLL team (the Hamilton Nationals selected him 12th overall; brother Jesse would follow in 2013 when drafted by the Chesapeake Bayhawks as 4th overall pick).
In addition to coaching at Maryland, Jake also plays in the Premier Lacrosse League, and was selected for its 2019 All-Star game.
Only a year separates Jake and Jesse, so they both played on the same Terps roster for several years.
Jesse was a two-time All-American at Maryland as an LSM, and like his brother Jake, captained the team twice (’12, and ’13); and like Jake, he was a 2018 member of Team USA.
He has also played professionally in the MLL for the Chesapeake Bayhawks and was a PLL draft pick.
Jesse was the defensive coordinator at Maryland in 2020.
He’d joined John Tillman’s staff in 2017 (replacing Kevin Conry who’d left to take the head coaching position at Michigan). He’d previously spent two seasons as an assistant at Rutgers, and the 2016 season as Princeton’s defensive coordinator.
The chaos brought to the sports world by COVID-19 is obviously a relatively minor part of the virus’s toll.
That said, the disruption of the 2020 college lacrosse season will inevitably affect Jared Bernhardt’s seemingly well-crafted plans. He had entered the 2020 season as a returning First Team All-American who’d scored 51 goals for Maryland in 2019, second-most in the school’s history.
He was also coming off a 2019 NCAA tournament quarterfinal loss against Virginia in which he’d scored 4 goals and had an assist.
And finally, he’d started the 2020 season as a solid Tewaaraton Award contender.
Bernhardt’s 2020 season with Maryland consisted of only six games, with the Terps going 5-1, with victories over High Point, Richmond, Penn, Notre Dame, and Albany (with the only loss coming against Villanova).
Based on Bernhardt’s performance in those six games–20 goals and 9 assists–Bernhardt was on track to end the season with 43 goals.
That goal total would not only put him in contention for the Tewaaraton, but also give a career college total of 154—within striking distance of Matt Rambo’s all-time Maryland mark of 155.
But lacrosse had been only one part of his plan.
At the conclusion of the 2020 season, Jared had planned to spend a graduate season playing college football.
And this was no fantasy.
At Lake Brantley High School, he’d run the triple-option well enough to attract interest from teams like Navy and Georgia Tech that had long run the offense.
But in his senior year the option was scrapped in favor of a less-confining pro-style offense that enabled him to run for over 1,400 yards, and pass for 751 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Because of his lacrosse commitment to Maryland, Bernhardt wasn’t able to pursue the football opportunities these kinds of numbers would ordinarily assure.
Bernhardt’s plan has again been upended.
Bernhardt had put his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal in the summer preceding his senior year, to see what interest he drew as a football prospect.
By May he had announced his intention to pass up the opportunity to return to Maryland for the 2021 lacrosse season, and instead play football at Ferris State University, a DII school located near Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the return of college football in the fall, even that plan may unfortunately be in jeopardy.
On being drafted by the same Major League Lacrosse team in 2017, Sergio Salcido and Nick Mariano were rightly celebrated as a legendary Syracuse midfield duo. As line mates and First-Team All-Americans, the two had in their senior year alone combined for over 100 points.
All of which makes another fact that much more startling.
Syracuse didn’t want them.
Neither player had been recruited by The Orange.
Mariano had ended up at UMASS for two years—joining the team that had originally snubbed him as a junior transfer.
But Mariano at least had the benefit of a lacrosse pedigree.
He was a product of Yorktown High School, the Westchester County, New York powerhouse that had churned out a litany of SU stars, including Tim Nelson, Roy Colsey, Matt Cacciato, and Paul Carcaterra.
Salcido, on the other hand, hailed from Winter Park High School.
And the closest connection he seemingly had with Syracuse was the poster hanging on his wall since elementary school showing the three brothers who comprised a good portion of the SU Lacrosse pantheon: Ryan, Casey, and Michael Powell.
Not that Salcido hadn’t attracted some interest.
He’d even received a full-ride offer from one school: Providence.
But he made it clear to incredulous recruiters through his high school coach Ryan Healy that he was interested in playing only for Syracuse–and compounded his inability to take a hint by then applying only to Syracuse.
Once on campus, the same single-mindedness that had previously seemed delusional helped propel Salcido from 5-foot-7, 157-pound scout team afterthought with a torn ACL to ACC Player of the Year, and USILA and Inside Lacrosse First-Team All-American.
Salcido, one teammate recalled tellingly, was the one guy who showed up at the first team meeting of the season carrying a stick.
His work ethic, both on and off-season, was relentless.
He put in endless hours of shooting practice. He also spent time prepping SU defensive star Brandon Mullins for future opponents, and in the process, got the benefit of Mullins’s insights into finessing defensive moves.
His progress was by no means instantaneous. His SU bio records as the signal achievement of his freshman season “picked up 5 ground balls”.
By his sophomore year, his ground ball total had increased…to 6.
That season’s recap also noted that he’d “dished out five assists and caused a turnover”.
But two seasons in, he still hadn’t scored a goal.
By the end of his junior season, 2016, Salcido had scored 29 goals, recorded 24 assists, was a starting middie , an All-ACC selection, and a USILA Second-Team All-American.
Salcido now plays professionally in the Premiere Lacrosse League.
To some Ivy League rivals, the most unsettling revelation to come out of the recent “Varsity Blues” scandal was that Yale, apparently, still maintains an admissions office.
After all, these schools had looked on nudgingly as the Elis proceeded to win Division 1 national championships not only in lacrosse (2018), but also in hockey (2013).
But the lacrosse team has offered some additional direct evidence that the building on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven is, in fact, still functioning.
For instance, Ben Reeves, winner of the 2018 Tewaaraton Award, majored in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology; another Eli, defenseman Peter Johnson, Yale ’13, had maintained a 3.33 GPA in the university’s notoriously ruinous Mechanical Engineering program.
And then there’s trilingual, National Honors Society member Jerry O’Connor.
Linguistic attainments aside, O’Connor was a defensive mainstay in Yale’s 2018 run, most prominently, stripping the ball from Duke All-American Justin Guterding in the game’s closing seconds to help clinch a national championship (Yale’s first since it had shared the title with Harvard and Princeton—in 1883).
In 2018, O’Connor was selected Honorable Mention All-Ivy League—an impressive credential in any year, but a particularly compelling one for the League at that time.
As mentioned with respect to Princeton’s Bear Goldstein, a 2017 All-Ivy player from Texas, the Ivies at the time were brimming with talent at attack: not only Tewaaraton Award winners Ben Reeves and Dylan Molloy (Brown), but also Princeton’s Michael Sowers, Cornell’s Jeff Teat and Matt Donovan, and Harvard’s Morgan Cheek and Devin Dwyer.
O’Connor would also become an MLL draft pick.
All of which is pretty good for a guy who picked up lacrosse in 8th grade—after being cut from the baseball team.
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,