The first time Towson State coach Carl Runk got a close look at Rob Shek, the kid from Bel Air High was in the company of the premier prep lacrosse players in Harford County that year, Mark Austin and Chris Dail.
Shek? He was strictly an afterthought.
Edgewood High's Austin and Bel Air's Dail were visiting Towson because Runk and his staff were recruiting them heavily. Shek tagged along at Dail's urging.
"We felt Austin was the best midfielder in Harford County and Dail the best attackman," Runk said. "But Frank Mezzanotte, who was then Edgewood's coach, told us, 'Watch Shek. He's LLTC good athlete. If you're patient, he'll turn out to be great.' "
Runk was patient, and Shek turned out to be a dandy. When Towson entertains Maryland Saturday, the players will be looking to Shek as their top gun.
Funny how things turn out. Austin left school after a few years to start his own business. Dail transferred to Maryland, where the lacrosse team is coached by his godfather, Dick Edell.
"I can't tell you how glad I am Shek stayed with us," Runk said. "And we didn't even recruit him. He could be the best midfielder in lacrosse this year. Who would have thought it would turn out this way? The way he's developed and worked after practice on his own, he's a coach's dream."
Shek was a late bloomer. For many of his formative years, baseball was his spring game, after he was instructed by his parents to choose between that or lacrosse. They grew weary of driving him from baseball field to lacrosse field while he changed uniforms in the car.
"I played baseball for eight years before I went back to lacrosse," Shek said. "By then, most of my friends were playing it."
Shek had a nice career at Bel Air, but not dazzling enough to attract college scouts.
"Chris put in a good word for me with the Towson people and so did some coaches," Shek said.
Since a freshman season during which he had a meager three goals and three assists, Shek has blossomed. He was Towson's No. 5 scorer as a sophomore with 17 goals and four assists and poured in 30 goals last spring.
In the Tigers' opening win over Villanova last week, Shek and Michael DeSimone each scored three goals.
"We want Rob on the firing line," Runk said. "Not many players are clocked at 90 miles an hour on their shots, but he's in the 90s consistently, left or righthanded, even on the run.
"Nothing fancy. He's not what I call an Ocean City lacrosse player. He's a blue-collar All-America."
If Runk's memory serves him correctly, it was a year ago in the Maryland game that Shek arrived at his present level of lacrosse.
"He scored a couple goals and went into a class by himself," Runk said. "He hasn't come down since."
Towson will need all the help it can get from Shek Saturday. Two high-scoring Tigers, Glenn Smith and Lindsay Dixon, were suspended for two games (Villanova and Maryland) because of academic deficiencies discovered in their records by an audit.
"This hurts us, but we'll fill in and come out with a win," Shek said.
In Smith's place on attack, Runk is rotating Joe Genovese and Donald Connolly. Doug Sharretts was promoted from the second to the first midfield to replace Dixon.