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Coach Rossi and Will Diamond Have Rollins on a Path to Serious Contender

Written by Lee Roggenburg on . Posted in .
Note: This article is part of a series.  We took a fall tour to visit with our Florida born impact players at Florida’s NCAA schools.  Our first stop found us at Florida Tech where we spent some time with Andrew Conley and Coach Ryan McAleavey. After that we made our way to Lakeland to visit with Brad Fretti and Dan Krispinsky.  Heading northwest out of Lakeland we headed to the hills of Pasco County and the beautiful campus of Saint Leo University where we chatted with Winter Springs’ Matt Obermeyer.  We then went a few miles south we found Coach Whipple and a trio of Florida’s top players.
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Photo Courtesy of Jim Hogue
After Tampa we headed back toward the Florida Lacrosse News World Headquarters in Central Florida.  After a short break we were able to catch up with Coach RJ Rossi and his sophomore standout, Will Diamond.   After a great career at St. Andrews Will went north to Avon Old Farms for a year of post grad studies.  Last year, as a freshman, Will led Rollins in both goals and assists. FLN – Will, congratulations on a great freshman season at Rollins.  How would you describe your season? Were you surprised at the level of success you had? Will – A little bit, but it was a pretty heartbreaking season actually because we lost a lot of close games in overtime.  I was pretty happy with how I played.  My shooting percentage was probably the worst (at 27.6% it was not)  on the team but I took a lot of shots I guess. FLN – 100% of the shots you don’t take don’t go in, right? Will – Yea, I guess I need to look at it that way. FLN – You went to St. Andrews and then a PG year at Avon Old Farms.  What led to the decision to do the PG year? Will – I had planned on going to Vermont (UVN) for a while but didn’t really like the fit there so I figured I could do the Post Grad year and figure out where I wanted to go.  Going away up to Connecticut made me realize I really like being around Florida and warm weather and being near my family.  I love it down here and I’m very happy I made the decision. FLN – As a player, do you think that post grad year helped? Or were you just spending time there? Will – No, it definitely helped and more kids are doing it.  There is another kid from St. Andrews up at Avon now.  The game was not at a higher level than at St. Andrews…the practices were just as intense.  But maybe seeing another coach was nice.  Seeing what it was like to be coached by someone else.  I only had Coach Goldberg since kindergarten. So it was good to get some different perspective and maybe that helped me become a better player. FLN – For the 2013 season what kind of goals do you have for yourself and what kind of goals have you set as a team? Will – Personally I want to be better than last year and be in better shape that I have been in past years.  For our team goals we want to make the tournament and have the best season we have ever had.  I’m not sure how the team was two years ago but I think we got much better last year and I think we’ll get better every year from now on. FLN – With the expansion of the tournament to eight teams it makes it very likely we’ll have a Florida team in the tournament.  Is that adding to some of the excitement about playing here? Will – Definitely.  I think that makes it a more realistic goal to set, making the tournament, with the new structure. FLN – You mentioned a couple of close losses last season, has that lead to any games being circled on the calendar for this year?
Photo courtesy of Jim Hogue
Photo courtesy of Jim Hogue
Will – Catawba definitely.  Catawba was a rough game, that whole weekend.  We played them and Lenoir-Rhyne University in the same weekend and they both went to overtime and we lost them both. Coach Rossi – That is on the goal list. FLN – Coach, when I emailed  you about sitting down with one of our Florida born impact players it only took you about ten minutes to get back to us and say “we’ll have Will Diamond out there to talk to you.”  Why Will and what Impact do you see him making on your program over the next three years? Coach Rossi – Will knows what I think of him as a person and a player.  I think he has a Division 1 skill set and knowledge of the game but I think he made the right decision for the right reason to come to us and to come back home, in general.  He is a leader by example out on that field and he possess the highest lacrosse IQ of our offensive players on last year’s roster.  He is just a lacrosse player. FLN – With Will choosing to come here with his D-1 caliber skill sets and a lacrosse pedigree like St. Andrews and Avon, what do you think that says to other Florida players who are considering the possibilities of staying home and playing at one of our Florida D-2 schools? Coach Rossi – Well I think Will is a perfect example, and there are others who come through my office during the recruiting process, who realize that Division 1 lacrosse is not the “end all.”  The love of the game is the “end all.”  And it’s about choosing the best education possible. Folks are starting to realize that the scholarship dream is just a dream.  There is just not that much financial ability to help young men with a lacrosse scholarship.  Especially in a football state like this, where people realize that football players get full boat, that lacrosse is about continuing the game and getting the best education possible. FLN – Do you find that the academic standing of Rollins College and the opportunities it offers gives you a recruiting advantage to keep some of our top home grown talent here? M Lacrosse 02-25 014Coach Rossi – Of course.  It’s definitely an advantage.  You know it’s pretty well documented that we offer the best secondary education in the state. Not to mention one of the best in the country.  That’s not me talking, it’s well documented.  The problem we sometimes have is that you have to meet the academic requirements and the SAT scores to get in here.  There are no gifts.  So therefore, it makes our job a little bit tougher.  As I explain to the kids who come to visit, all we know when we see you play at an event is if you can play.  That’s it.  Just like every coach.  Then you have to get down to the other stuff.  Sometimes we may have to eliminate a player we really want before the process goes anywhere because we know they won’t be able to make it academically. FLN – It sounds like it can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. Coach Rossi – It’s a double edged sword.  But we have been finding out a lot more, sense I completely changed the culture of this program, and building it in the way we’re doing it, it’s not going to happen overnight.  We find that parents and families are willing to go a little bit extra on the financial side to ensure that their kids are getting the best education available to them.  And that is what their lacrosse ability has enabled them to do.  But it definitely takes us a little longer to complete our recruiting class than most schools.  We have to go through the same process as the NESCAC schools. That is what the process is like here. FLN – Will, what advice to you have for kids here who meet the academic qualifications for Rollins.  Kids who may be looking at going up to the Northeast for school.  You said you are happy here with your decision; maybe you can expand on that a little bit. Will – A lot of my buddies where only focused on going the schools with the best lacrosse teams or playing division 1.  I don’t think that’s the right way to do it.  I think it’s important to find the best fit for you.  Personally, I wanted to go the best academic school I could go to.  And for me that was Rollins.    Lacrosse will only get you so far, it pretty much ends after college. Coach Rossi – One interesting point about that is that I played with his father.  So, although it’s unlikely to make you a wealthy man, it is a never ending fraternity.  So it does lead to job opportunities and networking opportunities.  The kind of thing that caused him to call me. FLN – That’s a great example of the fraternity.  Will, what are you doing with your spare time here in Winter Park? Will – Winter Park is a fun town.  Even when I was at St. Andrew’s I had a bunch of buddies at Winter Park High, they were kind of our rivals and we would come up here just for weekends and it was fun.  So now it’s great to be here full time. Coach Rossi – We also keep our kids active in community service.  We have been involved with the Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital.  If you ever want a wakeup call and something that will absolutely knock some sense into you go spend just five minutes there. FLN – Coach, what would you like folks to know about that state of Rollins Lacrosse right now and where it’s headed? Coach Rossi – I want people to know that we are rebuilding this deal.  There are a lot of nay-Sayers out there about what we are doing.  But it is a long term process.  The program wasn’t started properly when it was started and now we have the right pieces in place.  The problem is that we are so young there is a complete cycle that needs to take place. But the demand to be here to play has increased..I mean it’s exponential.  I got here in 2010 so I’ve completed three seasons.  When I first got here there were 26 young men on the roster and there are over 40 now.  But it’s a select group.  It’s not like, “Ok they want to come here so we’ll take them because we can’t get anybody else.”  You know there is whole diligent process we go through.   It’s working, and in a couple of years we are going to be there. FLN – It does take time for a coach to truly transition a program.  They recruiting process takes so long that by the time a coach gets his first class up and running he is three or four years into a contract. Coach Rossi – That’s true.  Will’s class is, technically, my first full recruiting class.  That class was the first to give us a legitimate, competitive program.  Although the record was the same, you can’t argue the record, but the completive nature of the games…four overtime games and we won one of them unfortunately.  Had we won two or three of those it changes the whole dynamic of the season. As we left the interview and walked through the campus the renewed sense of dedication in the program was evident.  The team is now playing on campus at the Barker Family Stadium in downtown Winter Park.  This is one of the best places around to play, watch, and spend an evening.  This is a sign of the commitment of resources, facilities, and money that Rollins has decided to put toward the program. The folks at Rollins lacrosse have their program on the right track.  It’s clear that the Florida D2 programs at the top are not going to back down.  Rollins looks poised to move up to compete and continue to tighten the gap.  When our Florida Teams begin play in the Sunshine State Conference in 2014 it will be one very competitive conference.