The road to Montclair State University’s men’s lacrosse team was a bit longer for senior midfielder Thomas Roper. Around 3,513 miles to be exact.
Hailing from Hertfordshire, England, Roper attended the University of Kent, where he played for the school’s varsity lacrosse team. For years, he’s wanted the opportunity to compete in the United States. Roper said one of his main motivations for coming across the pond was to test his abilities against higher-level competition.
“Ever since I’ve been playing, I’ve wanted to come to the [United States],” Roper said. “This is the place to play, the NCAA [is] one of the highest levels I can play in. It’s been part of the dream.”
Lacrosse is a sport rooted in North America, with few countries playing the sport outside the United States and Canada. Internationally, in places such as England, the game has a small but dedicated following, much in the same way that rugby does in the U.S.
Roper is no stranger to the game, as he plays for Team England, which competes in international lacrosse competitions. Although much of international play was disrupted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, he was able to take the field against neighbors Scotland and Wales. Roper said playing with the national team is a great honor for him.
“It just makes you feel proud,” Roper said. “Even though lacrosse is a small but growing sport [internationally], it’s still really cool to be able to throw on an England shirt and actually represent your home.”
So how does an international player go about the recruiting process? As Roper explains, there are connections between the Red Hawks and Team England.
“My coach in England actually knows [Montclair State’s coach Matthew] Poskay, so there’s kind of a link there,” Roper said. “Knowing [that] there was a connection there made it much easier to communicate with everyone.”
The NCAA upholds strict regulations when it comes to bringing in international talent. The process of determining eligibility, from acquiring the proper visas to attend school in the U.S., along with the college enrollment process is a daunting task that can take months.
Poskay explained some of the logistics behind Roper’s move to Montclair State.
“[Roper] reached out to us with an interest in playing here,” Poskay said. “He has endured a rigorous transition in the last year in terms of [NCAA] eligibility.”
When arriving in the United States, Roper was able to adjust to his new home relatively easily, save for some small differences. For example, when Roper arrived in the country for the first time, he went to get on the driver’s side of the car rather than the passenger side. But Roper gave credit to his teammates for taking him in and making him feel at home.
“I guess it was on the top of my mind [before coming over] that this might not work out and that I won’t be able to get on with anyone,” Roper said. “But we all got on really well. When I’m at home I can walk everywhere and here it’s not really possible, you have to drive and relying on people for rides can be kind of difficult. I’ve got all my friends now so I don’t mind asking them. I live with my teammates now and we all go to practice together which makes it all easier.”
On the field, Roper has shown promise early on. Through Montclair State’s first seven games, he has recorded six goals and three assists. The highlight of his season was a two-goal performance that helped put the Red Hawks over Misericordia University 18-16. Roper said there is still room for improvement as the 2022 campaign continues.
“It’s really encouraging that I have managed to make an impact to start the season,” Roper said. “I’m certainly still finding my way and getting more comfortable on the field. I’m definitely excited to see what our future games hold.”
Poskay said Roper’s defining characteristic is his work ethic and that he is excited to see how far he progresses as the Red Hawks push through their schedule.
“He is one of the hardest workers during practice and is without a doubt the hardest worker after practice,” Poskay said. “[Roper] is getting better every day and is starting to put up numbers in the stat columns. We look forward to what he will contribute come conference play.”