Former Orange star Jamie Archer leads Jamesville-DeWitt boy’s lacrosse program that feeds SU
Ally Moreo | Photo Editor
UPDATED: April 18, 2017 at 2:17 a.m.
Editor’s Note: SU’s men’s lacrosse team has consistently been a national powerhouse. The Daily Orange took a look at the local high schools that feed players to the program. You can view the series here.
Scott Firman started putting on his pads. The soon-to-be Jamesville-DeWitt (New York) High School sophomore was playing pickup lacrosse with his teammates. Usually his head coach, Jamie Archer, stood off on the side and watched. But one day, Archer came out with pads himself and suited up. Firman had to guard his coach, a former Syracuse All-American.
“I tried to play defense on him,” said Firman, now one of the best defenders in the country. “… He had old man strength. I never believed it until I guarded him.”
“I’ve retired my stuff,” Archer quipped.
The former Syracuse All-American has been the head coach of Jamesville-Dewitt’s varsity team since 2006, producing some of lacrosse’s top talent. Three current players — Firman, Jordan Evans and Connor Flanagan — on the top-ranked Orange (10-1, 4-0 Atlantic Coast) went through Archer’s program at J-D. Griffin Cook, a junior at J-D, recently committed to Syracuse. The high school is just six miles away from SU’s campus.
J-D alumni at Syracuse include the Orange’s best defensive player, Firman, and offensive weapon that dons the legendary No. 22 jersey, Evans. Since graduating SU in 1993, Archer stays close to the lacrosse program as an assistant in the summer and an attendee as often as he can in the spring.
“If I can help it, I don’t miss a game,” Archer said. “I go to every Syracuse game I can go to. I haven’t missed a game unless I’m out of town.”
On April 8, Archer stood with his arms crossed on the sideline, analyzing his team before J-D’s game against West Genesee (New York) High School, another local feeder program for Syracuse. In the two-hour contest, Archer was relaxed throughout. He rarely spoke to the referee, and his team never trailed in an eventual 13-7 win.
Evans knows that quiet confidence. “He doesn’t get out of whack,” the Syracuse senior attack said.
When Evans and Firman played at J-D, they said Archer and assistant coach Bob Elmer had contrasting coaching personalities. Archer was the “good cop” and Elmer the “bad cop.”
Elmer focused on the defensive side of the field and called out players, loudly, for mistakes. Archer was level-headed, critiquing players one-on-one rather than in front of the team, Evans said. But if needed, Archer stopped practice to point out errors.
“(Archer’s) pretty low key and analytical in his coaching style,” Firman, a senior at Syracuse, said. “But he wasn’t afraid to be upfront and tell you that you were doing a bad job.”
His analytical coaching style developed into a run-and-gun offense, a trait commonly associated with Syracuse. Archer had taken what he learned at SU and put his own spin on it: he wanted to push harder in transition and play even faster.
“It’s always a transition game for us,” Archer said. “We don’t like to slow things down.”
His strategy played out perfectly in the 2011 state championship game.
Tied 7-7 in overtime, Garden City (New York) High School held the ball on J-D for about a minute and 20 seconds. Garden City wanted to tire out J-D and take its time finding a defensive weak point. Then, GCHS passed it to the middle for Brian Coleman and J-D sprung its double-team. Firman approached from the backside and tomahawked his stick toward the head of Coleman’s. Suddenly, the ball was on the ground.
Firman scooped it up and flung to his cutting teammate, long-stick midfielder Matt Kopp. The high pass forced Kopp to extend his pole over his head on the run. And he caught it in one of the best high school plays Archer has ever seen. But J-D had only crossed the ball over midfield. Now, they needed to score.
“Most coaches when you get the ball back with little time,” Evans said, “they’re going to call that timeout and try to set up some random play, but just like I said, he let us play and he let us make the plays.”
Earlier in the game, Evans had slipped and fallen in a similar situation and given the ball away behind the goal. After the play, Archer pulled Evans aside on the sideline. He told his star player, who would eventually be ranked the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the nation, to forget about the turnover. He’d get another chance.
Seeing Kopp on the run, Evans broke backdoor on his defender toward the goal. With three seconds left, Evans capped J-D’s perfect season with a state title. Archer received a familiar Gatorade shower.
“I’ve had a couple of those,” Archer said. “(The players) win a championship with the guys you grow up with, there’s nothing better.”
He’d experienced similar success as a feeding attack for SU in the early 1990s. He won the 1990 and 1993 NCAA titles after then-Syracuse assistant coach John Desko recruited him almost 30 years ago. In four seasons, Archer finished top 10 in career assists and became an All-American, like his father before him.
“Lot of Orange blood runs through that family’s veins,” Desko said.
Ally Moreo | Photo Editor
After graduating from Syracuse in 1993, Archer wanted to become a gym teacher while also coaching lacrosse. He returned to his alma mater, Nottingham (New York) High School, and spent six years there before joining J-D in 2000.
Archer didn’t coach at J-D right away, though, spending one last spring with his final senior class. Then, he became the junior varsity head coach for a season before becoming an assistant to long-time head coach Jim Pistello.
Since 2006, when Archer took over, the Red Rams have been to six state championships, and Archer owns a career record of 218-27. In the past five years, J-D has never lost more than three times in a single season.
Over the past few years, five players from Jamesville-DeWitt have ended up at Syracuse. Others have gone on to Virginia, Villanova and other schools. But none have found more success than Firman and Evans.
Firman wears Syracuse’s No. 11 jersey, given to the best defender on the team. The senior transitioned from long-stick midfield to close defense this season and has limited nearly every matchup he’s faced, often the opponent’s best player, to under his season average. Six years ago, Archer had Firman, the No. 17 recruit in his class, make the same position switch in high school. That led to a seamless transition in college.
“Look what Scott’s doing for us now,” Desko said. “His high school experience has helped him because he played some long stick for J-D and close defense … He’s done an unbelievable job.”
Then there’s Evans. The attack wears the same No. 22 as SU legends Gary Gait and the Powell brothers. He was the No. 1 recruit in the 2013 recruiting class and led J-D to undefeated seasons in 2010 and 2011. He lost six times in four years.
The IQ that analysts praise Evans for now originated from J-D and Archer. A lot of that knowledge came from study sessions, practice and one-on-ones with Archer.
“I was really close with him,” Evans said. “He wasn’t afraid to go hard on me. With him allowing me to try to make plays, it also came with ‘You shouldn’t be trying to do that’ … There’s a time and place for everything and sometimes you’re going to try to overdo it.”
Archer still texts Firman and Evans before games because he wants to keep close with his former players. But that’s as far as he usually goes. He lets Desko and the SU coaching staff handle the coaching, unless he thinks he can help.
But he likes just offering pointers. Archer said he wants to stay put at Jamesville-DeWitt for the foreseeable future, because while jumping to the collegiate level of coaching comes with a bigger paycheck, there’s less job security and higher stakes.
“I’m pretty convinced he can be a very effective college coach,” Firman said. “He prepared us like we were a college team in terms of scouting, giving us a look at their offense and knowing their players.”
But Archer, for now, remains interested in dominating New York high school lacrosse. Just like he has the past 11 years. And maybe a few more of his players will end up playing in college just down the road.
View part one of the series here
CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post, Jamie Archer was misidentified in the dominant photo. The Daily Orange regrets this error.
Published on April 17, 2017 at 11:48 pm