SAINT LEO, Fla. – Ask Saint Leo University men's lacrosse head coach Brad Jorgensen if he's focused on his 100th career victory that looms on the horizon, and he wouldn't be able to provide you with an answer. But ask him about his thoughts on spending half of his career at Saint Leo, and the response is one filled with passion and enthusiasm.
Of course, if anyone were to ask Jorgensen 15 years ago, at the beginning of his career as a head coach, if he ever envisioned himself coaching collegiate lacrosse in the state of Florida, the answer would have been no.
"I would have said I was crazy," admits Jorgensen. "I never thought I was going to leave the New England area when I first started coaching."
But when the opportunity arose in 2005 to become the head coach of the inaugural men's lacrosse team at Saint Leo University, marking the first ever NCAA varsity lacrosse program in the entire state of Florida at any division, Jorgensen instantly saw the true potential that Saint Leo, and the budding program, possessed. He immediately knew that the future of lacrosse was quickly expanding out of the northeast region hotbeds where the sport was most popular.
"I thought the university offered the great opportunity to build a program from scratch, and the fact that we were going to be the first program in Florida was a big benefit," Jorgensen continued. "I looked at some of the successful schools at the Division II level, and felt that Saint Leo offered a lot in comparison. It immediately felt like a very attractive option for talented players from not only the northeast, but local talent from Florida as well. It was the perfect opportunity."
With his hiring officially announced on January 28, 2005, Jorgensen took to the direct task of building an empire. Now in his eighth season at Saint Leo, he finds himself on the cusp of his 100th career victory after a win at Rollins College on Thursday, February 28th brought him to career victory No. 99.
"I don't like to concentrate too much on the fact that I'm about to get my 100th win," he points out. "I earned half of those at the previous school I coached at. What I focus on is how successful this team has become in such a short amount of time. It's that milestone that truly makes me happy at the end of the day."
The road to respect wasn't an easy one, but Jorgensen was determined to harness the power of the potential Saint Leo held. After arriving on campus back in 2005, Jorgensen had very little time to recruit a team for the inaugural 2006 season. The first meeting he had on campus when he got to campus had only one potential player show up. But with the shared vision of University President Dr. Arthur F. Kirk, Jr., as well as the Saint Leo Director of Athletics Fran Reidy, Jorgensen knew the program was not going to be overlooked.
Despite the initial worries, the Lions found themselves instantly making an impact, and in just their second year the Green and Gold had a player recognized as the Deep South Conference Freshman of the Year, and appeared in the Conference Tournament semifinal game.
The following year, the Lions picked up another DSC Freshman of the Year honor, and made it to the tournament finals where they were narrowly bounced out of making it to the final four by Mars Hill with a score of 9-7. In spite of their success, the Lions still weren't getting recognized as a contender within the world of college lacrosse.
In a video interview from 2009, Coach Jorgensen stated, "There does tend to be a little bit of a northern bias, and part of it is our fault here down south. We've got to beat some of the better teams from the north if we're going to get the respect that we think we deserve."
And win their respect they did. In 2009, just the team's fourth year, the Lions won the Deep South Conference Tournament. A year later, the Green and Gold secured their second straight conference tournament title, and added it to the regular season championship title, as well.
Add on the team's first ever All-American selections in 2010, as well as multiple All-Conference selections, two straight years with a combined record of 23-6, and weekly recognition on the USILA Division II Coaches' Poll, and the Lions were finally getting the respect they deserved.
The immediate success of the sport at Saint Leo brought some attention to surrounding schools in the state. From the time the Lions introduced men's lacrosse to the Sunshine State with their inaugural season in 2006, the state of Florida has seen the addition of four men's programs at the Division II level, and five women's squads, comprised of two Division I programs, and three DII teams including the women's program at Saint Leo. And even more are on the way with announcements of impending inaugural seasons coming fast and furious as more collegiate schools try to get in on the action.
"It's amazing to think we were the ones who got the ball rolling," Jorgensen adds. "The rate at which the sport has grown here in Florida is incredible. It's nice to know we were the beginning of the movement, and provided the foundation for the sport to expand further in the south. And to be able to say that we were successful while doing so is even more of an accomplishment. I'm very proud to say I have been a part of this team from the beginning."
With 99 career victories, Jorgensen's landmark 100th win is just a game away. But a milestone victory won't divert his focus from the most important victory of all, and that is the continued growth and development of Saint Leo lacrosse as they strive to be better than they were the day before.
The Saint Leo men's lacrosse team returns to action on Wednesday, March 6, when they host Catawba College in Deep South Conference action. Game time against the Indians is slated for 7 p.m. at University Turf Stadium. Fans who cannot make it to the game will be able to catch the action live on the Saint Leo Sports Network at SaintLeoLions.com. For the latest news, updates, and information on the men's lacrosse program, fans can 'Like' the Lions on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.