Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
Anyone who knows the Lakewood Ranch Sforzo and Vitale families knows how much they love Notre Dame.
Both Terri and Sherri Vitale, the daughters of Hall of Fame college basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale, played tennis for the Irish. Terri's husband, Chris Sforzo, played lacrosse at the school. The pair's daughter, Sydney Sforzo, is a freshman on the tennis team.
Now, their son is joining the party, and make no mistake, he earned it.
On Sept. 1, Ryan Sforzo, a junior boys lacrosse player at IMG Academy, committed to be a Golden Domer. His decision came the same day Notre Dame Coach Kevin Corrigan called Sforzo and offered him a spot. In fact, Sept. 1 was the first day Corrigan could talk with Sforzo at all, per NCAA recruitment rules. Sforzo, who also plays club lacrosse with Sweetlax Lacrosse, said he spent that morning hoping a call would come.
"There was a lot of interest on my end, but I did not know if they felt the same way," Sforzo said. "Even though I've visited the campus many times, I had not talked with the program. Usually, sophomore year is when you start to get noticed by colleges, but my sophomore year was different with the pandemic hitting. The spring season was canceled and coaches were not allowed to watch us play during the summer. I just tried to stay optimistic.
"Getting the call felt amazing. It was one of the best days of my life. I was able to share it with family and friends. The support was overwhelming. It is something I will remember forever."
Sforzo said despite his familial connections, there was no pressure from anyone to choose Notre Dame if he didn't want to go there. It was all him. In the end, he decided to join the Fighting Irish, fulfilling a dream he's had since he was 5. Sforzo said South Bend is a rare place, a combination of down-to-Earth people and excellent academics. Sforzo said looking at what people accomplish after they graduate from Notre Dame was just as big a draw as the sports side of things.
It has not been easy for Sforzo to get to this point. He started playing lacrosse at 6 years old when Chris Sforzo started the Monsters Lacrosse program in Lakewood Ranch. But he didn't play in a tykes league — he played on an 11U team, going against kids five years his senior.
"I was, by far, the littlest guy out there," Sforzo said. "Playing on that team changed my life. I developed a chip on my shoulder. I had to prove I could play with them. Since then, I have never been scared of any opponent or any player, no matter their reputation."
His coaches at Sweetlax back up that assertion. On the team's Instagram, the program posted a heartfelt congratulations to Sforzo, a midfielder, specifically praising his discipline and his drive to get better.
"Coach Corrigan is getting one of the top all-around, high-IQ middies in the '22 class," Sweetlax said in the post.
Sforzo said his commitment will change the way he approaches the sport for the next two seasons. Sforzo said before, he was focused on looking good for scouts. Now, he can focus on making sure every aspect of his game is the best it can be, especially the non-flashy parts.
And, yes, it will make his family happy. Sforzo's commitment evens the score between Notre Dame and Duke in the battle for Dick Vitale's grandchildren: Connor and Jake Krug, the sons of Sherri Vitale and Thomas Krug (who was a quarterback at Notre Dame, by the way), are committed to play tennis as Blue Devils. Over text messages, Dick Vitale joked that it's up to Ava Krug, currently ranked fifth nationally in the women's tennis class of 2024 by the Tennis Recruiting Network as of Sept. 10, to break the tie.
We'll have to wait a few years to see how that turns out.