Making my way up to the field behind the Key Bank on West Genesee Street, I noticed a cluster of high school lacrosse players - a healthy combination of under and upperclassmen - huddled around an older gentleman.
The man was none other then West Genesee (N.Y.) varsity head coach Mike Messere. With a stick in his hand, he was diligently demonstrating to the crop of young men on how to correctly pick up a ground ball.
I drifted to the sidelines and struck up a conversation with Mr. Spillet, a volunteer coach that has been helping out alongside Messere for quite some time now.
"He's great," Mr. Spillet said referring to Messere. "Knows so much about the game."
My short 20-minute drive brought me to Camillus to pick Messere's brain about junior Nick Mellen - a 2015 Syracuse commit - and, of course, to soak in as much lacrosse knowledge as possible before the rain came pouring down.
"We are trying to bring the freshmen into the game," Messere said about his annual lacrosse socialization, "We are trying to familiarize them with what we do here (at West Genesee), what is expected at the varsity level, what kind of (defensive) rides we do, what different things we do in the game and attitude."
He points to a young man's brightly colored shorts.
"Those fancy shorts," he said waving his finger, "We wear just blue and gold shorts."
Messere's lacrosse I.Q. is superior. It was apparent that Messere doesn't stray too far from his winning formula of self-discipline and old school tactics. His well-documented success got him inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1994 and he is the all-time leader in lacrosse coaching wins. Evaluating talent is also something that is included on his resume.
"Nick is outstanding athletically," Messere said. "By the time he gets to Syracuse, he will have already played at a high level of competition. He has already won one State Championship and several sectional championships. He brings everything, hopefully, to the table for them."
Messere notes that he expects Mellen to improve further this upcoming season.
"He should do better than he did last year," he said. "That's the feeling. He will be in a leadership role and will be more mature. I think there is an immaturity that comes along with the game - and the self-discipline - to play the game the way that we want him to."
One game that stands out in Messere's mind about Mellen in regards to showing his age was against Jamesville-Dewitt. Mellen's sole responsibility was to blanket Jordan Evans, Syracuse's top freshman this season.
"Well, that game he was watching," Messere said bluntly. "All he had to do was watch (Jordan Evans). See, now that's a self-discipline thing there being a young player."
He continued, "You have to make that adjustment. He has to learn that this is what I have to do here and stick to whatever the game plan in. That was one of his weaknesses. He sat back and watched the play. That's the immaturity and lack of self-discipline."
With the blemish aside, Messere said Mellen is the complete package in terms of a lacrosse player.
"Nick has always been built," he said. "He has always been strong. He probably has the best feet, or as good as anyone that has come through (the program). And that's a big one, especially for the collegiate level."
Throughout his tenure at the helm of the West Genesee lacrosse program, Messere has coached only eight players who have not gone on to play lacrosse at the college level. More than 100 of his former players have gone onto to coaching at some level. The recruiting process is something that he knows like the back of his hand.
"I told him had to stay in contact with me and that he was not to make a decision until the bitter last second," he said. "If it was a school he didn't care about, let them go. Continue to go to all the schools. It was back and forth because he is young...he really didn't know what he wanted to do when you're in that kind of situation. It's the most horrible thing; this recruiting at that level with the kid."
With the ever-evolving world that is lacrosse recruiting, one thing, though, remains constant: the pipeline between West Genesee and Syracuse.
"The kids are decent players," Messere said about his players. "(Syracuse) knows they are going through a good program and they have a great sense of the game - that's what we try and teach them.
They play an outstanding mental game as well as well as a physical game."
Coach speak: Nick Mellen
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