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Just over a week after Cole Horan found out that Furman University’s lacrosse program had been terminated in May 2020, he signed with Syracuse. He transferred from the Southern Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference, from a lower-tier Division I program that went 9-26 during Horan’s three seasons to a nationally renowned program.
The turnaround seemed quick, and the jump significant. For Horan, though, it was neither.
Horan’s time in the portal began the evening of May 18, hours after the Zoom meeting where Furman’s athletic director announced that the lacrosse program was being cut.
Over the next week, the defender’s phone was ringing constantly, said his mother, Jennell. Andrew Athens, the former defensive coordinator at Furman, spoke to SU defensive coordinator Lelan Rogers and said a transition to Syracuse would be straightforward for Horan. As Furman’s top cover defender, he’d already guarded North Carolina’s Chris Gray and Penn State’s Mac O’Keefe and Grant Ament. Horan’s experience made him a “no-brainer” addition to the Orange, Athens said.
“I wasn’t selling him, or anything like that. Cole sells himself,” Athens said of his conversation with Rogers.
Less than a year after Horan’s transfer to Syracuse (6-5, 2-4 ACC), he’s filling a starting role in Syracuse’s backline after redshirt junior Nick DiPietro’s season-ending injury. Horan’s still adjusting to the defensive unit after being thrown into the lineup for Syracuse’s April 17 game against North Carolina and the two games since. But for the undersized and under-recruited defender who made the “big jump” from Furman to SU look small, a starting role is just the latest step in Horan’s winding path, Jennell said.
“If I was a betting man, I probably would’ve bet a lot on Cole,” Athens said. “It’s pretty simple if you look at what he’s done.”
At 5-foot-10 and 199 pounds, Horan isn’t built like a traditional defender. He was initially passed over by many Division I schools — including his childhood dream school, Syracuse — purely because of his size, many close to him said.
“Sometimes it’s not as sexy as ‘This guy is 6-foot-5, great wingspan, looks the part,’” Athens said. “The eye test wasn’t necessarily there for him.”
Out of high school, Horan only received a handful of Division I offers, Athens said. He knew he was settling when he chose Furman.
Horan was slightly overweight for the sport during his freshman season with the Paladins, former teammates and coaches said. That’s because the defender was also an All-American linebacker at Floral Park Memorial (New York) High School, so his weight and muscle mass fluctuated depending on whether it was lacrosse or football season. Summers were for bulking ahead of football season, and winters were for trimming down ahead of lacrosse season.
Between his freshman and sophomore year at Furman, Horan lost 20 pounds by doing cardio, lifting weights and changing his diet. He knew increased playing time was a realistic possibility.
“Sophomore year, he comes back, and he’s unrecognizable,” former Furman defender Corey Hall said. “He’s put on a ton of muscle, he’s cut up.”
The following summer, two teammates started a fitness Instagram account where players posted screenshots from their running app to the account’s story. The app tracks their mileage, times and paths, and players could see one another’s progress.
Most players’ workouts hovered above the team’s minimum fitness standard: 1.5 miles in 9 1/2 minutes. Horan’s work ethic was a “different breed,” former Furman defender Brady Stoll said. Horan ran 10-12 miles daily that summer, making him the account’s No. 1 runner by far, said Carson Sorrells, Horan’s three-year teammate and roommate.
If I was a betting man, I probably would’ve bet a lot on Cole. It’s pretty simple if you look at what he’s done.
Andrew Athens, former defensive coordinator at Furman
Horan hasn’t let up since. His fitness was top-notch even at the end of the summer, when most players take a month off, said Keith Lohmuller, Horan’s private coach and an assistant coach at the Queens University of Charlotte. “He’s ready to play spring ball in September,” he said.
The increased fitness routine shaped him into a top cover defender at Furman because he had the speed to cover top Division I talent, Stoll said. Horan had the stamina to keep up with players who dodge 15-20 times per game, such as Gray, he said.
From his first practice at Furman, Horan found ways to assert himself despite being slightly “undersized,” Sorrells said. It was immediately evident that Horan’s stick skills and athleticism made up for the fact that he wasn’t as tall as the other long poles, Sorrells said.
During that first practice, Horan — an unproven freshman at the time — went up against a senior attack. As the attack dodged, Horan had a wraparound check that caused the attack to lose his stick and glove. From then on, Horan had the respect of his teammates.
Still, Horan spent the first half of the season on scout defense. It didn’t make sense, Hall said, because Horan was dominating the starting attacks as a freshman. Sorrells called Horan the worst matchup on scout defense because he picked off passes, checked the attack’s elbow and kept them uncomfortable.
“(Eventually), the coaches were like ‘Hey, there’s no way you can be on scout anymore,’” Sorrells said.
Horan then took on a bigger role that he maintained. At Syracuse, Horan has followed the same path, too — earn the starting job, then work to keep it.
As part of a defensive unit that’s had a shaky season and a number of injuries, Horan still has plenty to improve. Against Virginia on April 24, he was forced to choose between defending Connor Shellenberger, who was unmarked behind the net, and Ian Laviano, who was in front of it. Horan chose neither and watched as the two connected to put UVA up 2-1.
Against Notre Dame, Pat Kavanagh got multiple steps on Horan and squeezed past him and Peter Dearth, scoring into the far post to give the Fighting Irish a 3-2 lead. Syracuse has issues sliding, something Horan did more frequently at Furman, but head coach John Desko has said the Orange are continually making adjustments.
Syracuse was always the dream for Horan. At 12 years old, Jennell said her son wore SU lacrosse shorts all the time. At the start of eighth grade, when he began working with Lohmuller, Horan had a list of a handful of schools he wanted to play at, including top-20 teams such as Johns Hopkins, UNC, Notre Dame and Syracuse.
As a junior in high school, he emailed D-I coaches his highlights, but didn’t hear back from several schools, including Syracuse. Now, years later, after a stop in Furman and a “big jump” to follow, he’s arrived.
The post Under-recruited, undersized transfer Cole Horan steps into starting role appeared first on The Daily Orange.