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September 18, 2013

Former West Bloomfield lacrosse player reflects on life-changing decision

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

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Former West Bloomfield lacrosse player Caleb McCurtis, left, is pictured during a high school game. McCurtis is the first West Bloomfield lacrosse player to earn a collegiate scholarship.

WEST BLOOMFIELD — As recently as a few years ago, if you would have told Caleb McCurtis that he would receive a partial scholarship to play lacrosse at the college level, he may have given you a very strange look.

McCurtis’ sport of choice his first two years at West Bloomfield High School was football; he simply didn’t give a lot of thought to lacrosse.

All that changed after his history teacher, Aaron Avery, who also coaches the JV lacrosse team at the school, approached him about giving the sport a try. And although it took some convincing, McCurtis finally relented.

He is glad he did, as he went from someone who had never played to earning a role as one of the team captains his senior season and making the All-Conference squad in the Oakland Activities Association.

After his final lacrosse season for West Bloomfield, McCurtis took the initiative, with some encouragement from Lakers head coach James Thomas, to put together a highlight tape to send to colleges. The decision paid off, as it landed him a scholarship with Ohio Valley University, which is located in West Virginia.

McCurtis takes satisfaction in being the first lacrosse player from West Bloomfield to earn a scholarship. He has given some thought as to how lacrosse has given him a new direction in life.

“I believe God opens doors for us,” McCurtis said. “I took the door, and I opened it. This sport, I’m more passionate about than I was with football, and I played football for years. I wasn’t nowhere near as good as a lot of the players, but they pulled me aside and were like, ‘Man, you have something.’

“At West Bloomfield, the coaches really work with each player, and they really care about each and every one of those players. I just think it was an act of God to touch coach Avery’s heart to talk to me about lacrosse, and now I’m getting college paid for — not full, but partial scholarship to go play — and my parents don’t have to pay anything, basically, for college.

“Lacrosse was one of the best things that happened to me in my life. I thank God and all the coaches at West Bloomfield High School.”

Thomas also has some ideas as to how McCurtis ended up in the position he’s in.

“Caleb is a worker,” he said. “Caleb worked on his skills; Caleb’s honest with himself about what he needs to improve — he doesn’t sugarcoat things. Caleb has good dialogue with the coaches. Caleb can take criticism, and Caleb sets goals, and I think that’s what sets Caleb apart. He put in his room ‘NCAA lacrosse player,’ beginning of the year last year, unprompted from any of the coaches.

“He’s a special young man. I have a son, and if I had another one and he was Caleb, I would be very proud to call him my son. If you asked anybody in the building about Caleb, they’d have positive things to say. All the staff admired and liked (him).”

Along with support he has received from his family, McCurtis credits his coaches from West Bloomfield for helping him come as far as he has, including Ed Anderson, who coached him his junior year, and Thomas, who McCurtis referred to as “a very special man.” And while he has enjoyed the experience thus far of playing at the college level, McCurtis said he misses West Bloomfield.

Aside from having fond memories of his playing days with West Bloomfield, due in large part to being named as a team captain, McCurtis also said he thinks he came away with an understanding of how he can best serve a team in a leadership role.

“A lot of people think you have to be a rah-rah guy, yelling and screaming,” he said. “You can ask anybody on that team — I didn’t scream at anybody. You go out there, and do it and show it. You score a goal, be classy about it. You do the right things. Yes, you speak up sometimes and do all that, but that’s not all it’s about. Be an example to the younger guys, and even some of the older guys — give some words of encouragement.

“You don’t have to be ‘all attention on me’ yelling at each other. That’s not what a captain is. It’s a guy that goes out there, works hard. You don’t have to talk a lot; just go out there and show what you’re doing and hope it rubs off on everybody.”

While he may still be on the early path of his journey, McCurtis isn’t too young to have picked up some valuable life lessons along the way.

“You have to get tough,” he said. “Everybody gets (to) a point where it gets tough, but it’ll be over if you put the work in. And never give up. I’ve had many people say, ‘Oh man, you’re black — you ain’t about to play lacrosse. That’s not even your sport.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, thank you.’ I’ll just keep going. Just keep your head up, stay humble and keep God first, because nothing anybody can say can get to you as long as you keep those three things in mind.”

Thomas expressed optimism about what the future could hold for his former player.

“I anticipate that it is entirely possible if professional lacrosse expands to Michigan, he could be a professional lacrosse player,” he said. “There is no ceiling for Caleb because of his work ethic, his God-given athletic skills, and his attitude. Sky is the limit.”

McCurtis has considered choosing Wellness or Sports Management as his major, but he is currently undecided.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mark Vest at mvest@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1112. Twitter Follow Mark on Twitter.