- Jon Mahoney, ESPNHS.com
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Where are you going to college?
Since his junior year, Chris LaPierre has been asked this
question repeatedly, despite the fact that the Shawnee (Medford, N.J.) senior committed to the University of Virginia in November of 2007.
As the top two-sport athlete in New Jersey, the 6-foot-2,
218-pound lacrosse/football standout isn't surprised by the query. It's the ones posing the question who are taken aback when he tells them why he's actually heading down to Charlottesville, Va.
Are you going there for football?
The gridiron was always LaPierre's field of dreams. He began playing organized football when he was 5, and it was then he earned the nickname Shocker. LaPierre flattened an opponent with a hit so hard that someone watching the game said it was a shocker. For a kid who loved contact, the moniker fit as perfectly as Ryan Howard in the middle of the Phillies' order.
So did football.
After playing on the freshman team his first year at Shawnee, LaPierre started on varsity the following season as a running back/safety/punter. He excelled in all three facets of the game and was so integral to Shawnee's success that football coach Tim Gushue took him out only on kickoffs.
"He can do it all," says Gushue, who completed his 32nd season as football coach this past fall and is also the lacrosse coach at Shawnee.
As a running back, LaPierre was virtually unstoppable and remarkably consistent. He
finished his career with 4,730 rushing yards and 86 touchdowns on 700 carries. With all the times he handled the rock, LaPierre fumbled only once, and that was as a sophomore.
He was at his best this past fall when he ran for 1,647 yards on 231 carries and set single-season state records for touchdowns (44) and points (272). Not even potential first-round NFL draft pick Knowshon Moreno, who starred at
Middletown South before moving on to Georgia, put up those kind of single-season numbers while he was in high school.
LaPierre capped his high school football career by rushing for 179 yards and four scores as Shawnee (12-0) upended Hammonton, 28-7, in the South Jersey, Group 3 finals for its second
"Since I'm not going to be playing football next year, it was a great way to go out," says LaPierre, who also tallied a school-record 12 career interceptions at Shawnee.
Wait, LaPierre isn't playing football next year? Did he back out of his commitment? Surely he's going to Virginia for football, right?
No, I'm going for lacrosse.
When LaPierre made his pledge to Virginia in the fall of 2007, it was for lacrosse, not football. With all the early success he'd had on the gridiron, it was a surprise to some. But he didn't make the decision on a hunch.
After carefully considering all of his options with his family, LaPierre decided to jump at the offer from a program that is like the USC football of men's lacrosse. He chose the Cavaliers over Duke, North Carolina and Georgetown and says he also received football recruiting interest from Penn State, Rutgers, North Carolina and Virginia.
Sure, he was a stud on the high school gridiron, but when it came to projecting what sport was the best fit for him in college, lacrosse won out. LaPierre eventually made his choice official when he signed with Virginia this past fall.
"It was a family decision," says LaPierre. "Whether I'm better at one sport or the other,
it's a decision I stick by. A lot of people were
surprised by it. Everyone who doesn't know me assumes it was for football."
So, which is he better at: football or lacrosse?
"That's a tough question to even answer," says senior Kody Smith, a close friend of LaPierre's who plays both football and lacrosse for Shawnee. "But he chose lacrosse and it's his decision. To get a full scholarship to play lacrosse at Virginia is tough to turn down. I understand why he made the decision."
Watch LaPierre play lacrosse and you understand why his choice wasn't as tough as it sounds. Sure, he started out playing football, but he's also been wielding a lacrosse stick since the fourth grade. And, well, he's become quite good at it.
"He's pretty much a freak of nature," says Smith. "He can single-handedly take over a game if necessary. He's a phenomenal athlete."
LaPierre roams the midfield for Shawnee with a devastating combo of power and speed and can't be checked with just one defender. A four-year starter for the Renegades, he enters his senior season with career numbers of 133 goals and 68 assists.
Rated the nation's No. 2 senior by Inside Lacrosse, LaPierre was a US Lacrosse All-American last year after finishing with 58 goals and 34 assists. Shawnee went 18-2 and lost to Montgomery in the Group 3 semifinals, a game in which LaPierre had three goals and two assists.
LaPierre is only getting better, which is why his future college coach can't wait to get him on campus.
"What I think puts him in an elite class at our level is his combination of size and speed," says Virginia head coach Dom Starsia, who has
guided the Cavaliers to three NCAA titles. "You get some big ones and you get some fast ones. When you put them both together, then I think you have someone special."
And someone who's done answering what sport he's playing in college.
Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.
Despite having the best single-season rushing performance in state history, Shawnee's Chris LaPierre will give up football for lacrosse at Virginia