By Dave Bryant (as told to Katherine Dolan)

I grew up in the south end of Oshawa, Ontario and if it weren’t for hockey, I know I would have gotten myself into some trouble. So when my wife Kelly and I had three boys, it was never a question, they would all be involved in sport.

Through the years, our boys who are now 26, 23 and 21 respectively, all played hockey and lacrosse and developed lifelong friendships that they still maintain today as young adults. Their sporting careers had ups and downs, but the most challenging time we went through was with our middle son Zach and his journey to the NCAA.

Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing time, couldn’t have asked for a better result and we would do it all over again, but I am sharing our story today from a parents perspective in hopes that it might help some of you with kids who are looking to go the NCAA route. It’s not easy, but in the end, it was worth it for Zach and our family.

It all started when Zach was playing rep lacrosse in high school. We had heard some parents talking about the U.S. University and College recruitment process, so we discussed it with Zach and decided to see if the NCAA route could be an option for him. We knew he had the athletic and academic ability so we started to investigate the process.

To say it was overwhelming would be an understatement, and that’s not even mentioning the financial side.

You see, there’s private elite programs that recruit kids to attend their high schools with the expectation, they’ll get more attention from U.S. Universities. But for the average family, paying $30,000 a year for a child to attend a private school is just not within the scope for most of us.

It just wasn’t an option for us. So we researched, talked to other parents, as well as coaches and found another way.

We started putting Zach into invitational tournaments where parents can put their kids on teams to showcase their abilities for scouts and schools. Zach got calls right from the very first lacrosse invitational tournament we put him in, so we started to put together videos to showcase what he could do.

We then reached out to coaches and let them know Zach was going to be at a specific tournament and that he was interested in their school. We asked for a meeting with various coaches and that approach really seemed to work. Ultimately that is how Zach ended up signing with Robert Morris University where he went for four years on a partial scholarship.

My advice to other parents who might not have the funds to go the elite route is to put together a highlight video of your child, make a list of the schools they are interested in and start reaching out to those schools.

Find out what invitational tournaments some schools might be at and set up a meeting with the coaches, as we found a lot of coaches were very receptive to a meeting. It helped that Zach had the talent and was a good player, but I don’t think a lot of these coaches would have been looking for him if we hadn’t done our own leg work because many of them simply rely on private or elite school programs to recruit.

I also can’t stress enough as well how important Zach’s strong academic record was to all of the coaches we spoke to during the recruitment process. I was very surprised that many of the coaches asked about grades and Zach’s character before even seeing him play.

He continued to have great success in the classroom at RMU and on the field finishing with a 3.90 GPA, graduating with a degree in biology and a minor in chemistry. Zach excelled on the field as a close defender often assigned to shutting down some of the countries’ most prolific offensive players.

He finished his final collegiate season eighth in NCAA Division I Lacrosse with 2.06 caused turnovers per game and his 77 all-time put him 2nd in Robert Morris Program history. He was a two time all Northeast Conference (NEC) tournament selection and the 2018 NEC defensive player of the year helping Robert Morris capture the conference championship and the first NCAA tournament win in program history, eventually bowing out to the number 1 seed, Maryland. Zach was selected as a two-time team MVP and received the Robert Morris University Male Presidential Scholar-Athlete of the Year award.

Transitioning Zach from life at home with his family, to living life down in the U.S. was tough but we were fortunate that with the help of technology and a lot of Facetime, Zach had an overall positive experience throughout his 4 years at Robert Morris.

What I do believe helped us the most, was his coach Andrew McMinn. We can’t say enough good things about him, because he cares about his players, he cares about his team and he was incredibly supportive in transitioning in new players.

Zach graduated in 2018 and is now studying to become an optometrist, his lifelong dream. He was drafted to Ohio Machine in the Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Draft and to the San Diego Seals of the National Lacrosse League, but chose to step away from playing professional lacrosse to pursue a career in optometry.

His story demonstrates that any athlete who dreams of playing in the NCAA can succeed without the help of expensive elite programs or attending private schools to get there.

If you do have a son or daughter and you want to go the NCAA route, my best advice is to do your homework. You don’t have to go the private school route, there are other ways, just make sure that you keep your child involved in the process, as we believe this helped us make the right decision for our son.

All The Best,