When a coach elects to keep a ninth-grader on the varsity, usually it's because the freshman is that good or the team is that bad.
And sometimes it's a combination of the two.
Such was the case at Loyola in 1992. Scott Diggs and Brian Zeller were freshmen then and Loyola lacrosse coach Joe
McFadden was trying to find a way to unseat St. Paul's, a team that won 35 straight games, including two straight championships, in the now-defunct Maryland Scholastic Association.
Three years later, a lot has changed. The league's governing body has been renamed and St. Paul's coach Mitch Whiteley has retired, but Diggs and Zeller return and both are poised to make one final run at the A Conference title.
Each signed national letters of intent during the early signing period -- Diggs with Duke and Zeller with Maryland -- so those pressures have been alleviated. The only thing the two midfielders have to prove now is that they can help bring an A Conference title to Blakefield.
The two certainly have come close enough.
Their sophomore year, the Dons made it all the way to the finals at UMBC before falling to St. Mary's. Last season, Loyola entered the playoffs as the hottest team in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference, but made a swift exit, losing to St. Mary's again, this time in the semifinal round.
"There's got to be a championship out there for Brian and I," said Diggs. "This has got to be our year. We have a strong corps of seniors and I know we're all going to try to pull together and get this done."
Thus far, the fourth-ranked Dons have been getting the job done. Other than a one-goal loss to top-ranked Boys' Latin in the opener, Loyola has been unstoppable, beating McDonogh (14-3), Mary's (15-6), and Severn on Friday, 13-8.
Diggs, a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder with a rare blend of strength and quickness, has 19 goals and five assists in 14 outings, including three goals in the loss to the Lakers and two goals and one assist against the Saints.
What impresses McFadden more than the offensive production is how Diggs, a co-captain this year and last, has assumed the leadership role the past two seasons.
"Scott is not a rah-rah guy. Sometimes, he'll kind of dig down deep and say something to the guys before a game or at halftime and the other guys will kind of chuckle because that's not his nature," said McFadden. "He just goes out and does it the right way and expects the other guys to follow suit.
"There are guys out there who may be just as strong or just as fast, but I don't see a player out there who can leave people in the dust like he does. When he gets moving, no one will get in his way."
Zeller isn't quite as fast or as strong as Diggs, but his shooting skills and deceptive speed make him Loyola's most dangerous scoring threat.
"He has an uncanny knack of putting the ball in exactly the right place," said McFadden. "Brian can pull the trigger with defenders hanging on him and he's one of those guys that doesn't look fast, but no one catches him."
McFadden said he's going to miss both Diggs and Zeller, but with plenty of lacrosse left to play this season, he isn't getting teary-eyed just yet.
"No, they shouldn't have walked in here and gone right to the varsity level, but they did and they took some lumps early," said McFadden.
"But instead of getting crushed by it, these two made a constitution that said, 'They got us today, but we'll be back.' "