When Kellen Hoke was in kindergarten, his dad brought home 2 mini lacrosse sticks for him and his older brother. Fast forward 13 years, and Kellen is committed to play lacrosse for the University of Utah this coming fall.
Kellen grew up in Sammamish, WA, a suburb east of Seattle. He played with the Seattle Starz starting in 3rd grade and is a standout player on his Skyline High team. A midfielder who specializes on face-offs, Kellen has been a lacrosse player almost as long as he can remember doing anything.
“I got sick and tired of just sitting on sidelines watching my brother play,” Kellen said. “The coaches said I was big enough and that I should play. So I have just rolled with it ever since.”
Having both boys play helped Kellen’s parents, Bryan and Meghan.
“We were lucky, cause with two boys they were always playing sports with each other and always helping each other get better,” said Meghan Hoke. “Kellen always loved lacrosse. He was super athletic as a kid.”
Bryan agreed, “Every team he’s played on, he’s always been the leader. Hockey or lacrosse or soccer or baseball, Kellen has always been in the upper echelon of the team. He’s never had a fear of anything.”
That combination of a love of lacrosse, athletic ability, and fearlessness led to big dreams for Kellen. He remembered thinking about playing NCAA lacrosse early on, “In my head, when I made my first Starz team in 6th grade, I thought about playing in college. All the trips East I made, mentally it made me feel like I was getting recruited at a super young age.”
The Hoke’s marveled at how many plane trips to the East Coast they made over the years. The continuous travel helped generate feelings of excitement, pressure, frustration and the innate desire of West Coast players to prove themselves against East Coast college coaches and players.
“I found it really frustrating when I’d play against players on other teams who were committed to wherever, and I’d be better or just as good as them,” remembered Kellen. “They were already committed and I was just fighting to get looks.”
Meghan concurred, “It is difficult being on West Coast. It’s a hard road. A lot of airplanes, and time away from friends.”
“College recruiting has been a long and painful process,” Kellen added. “All of my friends at home are going out having fun, and I’m on other side of country. I’d think I did well at tournaments and showcases, and then I’d come home and there would be no emails from coaches. I’d think, what else do I need to do? At the time I was really frustrated. But it was for the better to keep pushing me to work harder for a few years.”
The Hoke’s praised Seattle Starz coach & recruiting coordinator Lewis Ratcliff for helping them through the process. “I don’t know how he did it all for entire teams, but he did,” says Kellen. “That was huge for me. He dedicated his life to make me successful and achieve my dreams.”
Kellen also gave praise to Scott Kelly and the entire Seattle Starz program. “They had us competing against teams that were way better than what you see in Seattle. They did a great job of finding the best talent in the area and taking us to the best tournaments possible. That might mean getting smacked but that would make us come home and practice and get better.”
Eventually, the pain turned into gain for Kellen as he started to get offers. Kellen originally committed to Fairfield University in Connecticut. But then Brian Holman and the University of Utah made Kellen an offer. Kellen leaned on his brother Conner, who plays for Boston College, to help make the decision. “Conner said, you have to take a risk,” said Kellen. “He made me flip a quarter to decide, but I realized he really just wanted to see my reaction to that. I was worried and nervous. It was the known (Fairfield) vs the partially unknown (Utah). He made it super simple in my mind.”
“He loves Coach Holman and his incredible coaching staff,” said Meghan. “He’s a West Coast boy with something to prove.” Bryan, “He’s carrying the load for a lot of local Seattle kids and wants to contribute to the success of his team and the success of west coast lacrosse.”
Kellen agreed as he reflected on the process that led him to Salt Lake City. “This whole process was really tough and strenuous and sometimes I was like, I don’t know if I want to do this. But I’m so happy I did it. Having a goal to work towards has kept me on track, and it has kept my grades up. It has kept me focused. And really it’s a whole family ordeal. My mom and dad and brother sacrificed so much for me. I thank them so much.”