Most students look forward to senior year of high school for the bookend it is to an important and memorable chapter in their lives. Those final months leading up to graduation can be intense as they make important decisions about their future and bid farewell to lifelong friends with anticipation of what comes next. One can’t help but recognize the feeling of finality that comes with senior year: last time to walk the halls of high school, senior prom, graduation, and so on.
For Tommy Coyne, however, what should have been his senior year ended up being a year of firsts: his first year of college, the first time he played in a college lacrosse game, the first time starting in a college lacrosse game, his first hat trick in his first road game, the first time he was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
A slow start to Tommy’s recruitment gave way to plenty of interest from D1 schools, including Rutgers University. “My freshman year of high school, I was a very one-dimensional player, and I lacked in size and strength and didn’t really get any looks,” Tommy said. During his sophomore year, he started playing for True Lacrosse, and more schools began to show an interest including Cornell, Virginia, Towson, Notre Dame, Jacksonville, and Brown. “None of them really showed their interest in me fully except Rutgers and in November of my sophomore year, I ended up committing to Coach Brecht and the whole Rutgers coaching staff.”
Tommy figured that meant he would begin his college career in Fall 2018, but Coach Brecht had other plans. “In May, at the end of my junior year of high school, my parents got a call from Coach Brecht and he brought up the idea of me possibly attending Rutgers the second semester of my senior year,” Tommy recalled. “The concept didn’t really make sense to me at first because it had never been done before in college lacrosse.”
After a lot of thought and discussion with his family, Tommy decided to graduate from Naperville Central High School early and enroll at Rutgers in January of this year. “My family and I thought about the idea for the rest of that summer and concluded that leaving early would be the best fit for me and give me a chance to be the most successful I could be. It was a sacrifice to leave high school early and miss out on all the opportunities that came with being a senior at Central, but starting on a Big Ten team is a dream come true.”
In his first season with the Scarlet Knights, Tommy’s decision to begin his college career early proved to be the right one. “My college experience has been great so far,” he said. “When I first arrived at Rutgers, it was a little weird to meet the guys and go right into spring lacrosse practices while still trying to learn people’s names, but as the weeks went on, I started to bond with all the guys on the team and have grown extremely close with them all.”
One of the biggest hurdles was adjusting to the difference between high school and college lacrosse practices. “I expected the practices to be much faster paced and intense, but I didn’t realize how much different it was until I stepped on that field for the first day.”
The pace and intensity prepared Tommy well for those first games of the season: in his third game and only his second career start, Tommy recorded a hat trick for the first three goals of his career. That feat - which he achieved in just one minute and 14 seconds - earned him Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Week. In a few short games, Tommy gained the confidence he needed to become a game changer for his team.
At the conclusion of the 2018 season, Tommy had started in 13 of 15 games; he was fifth on the team with 16 goals and eight assists for a total of 24 points; and he had 13 ground balls and one caused turnover.
“I am not going to lie,” he said, “I was pretty nervous the first time I stepped out on that field. I really got my confidence after the Army game and took that confidence with me for all the following games of the year.”
While his Naperville Central classmates prepare for graduation in a few weeks, Tommy has already navigated those first exciting - sometimes nerve-wracking - months of college, and there’s no looking back now. “Being put into the fire and starting as an early freshman has been a wild but truly amazing experience. I have learned so much from the seniors and all the coaches, and can’t wait for my future here at Rutgers.”