Colin Wharton is proof that you can go home.
Wharton was recruited by Division I Jacksonville University out of Camden Catholic High School to play lacrosse.
The Cinnaminson native enjoyed Florida and he liked the program, but still something was missing.
So the rugged 6-foot-2 defender returned to South Jersey after his freshman year, transferring to Richard Stockton University for his sophomore season where he was chosen, last week, as an All-America Honorable Mention by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA).
“It was too far from home,” Wharton explained. “I liked it, but I felt I just wasn't in love with it.
“And I just wasn't enjoying lacrosse that much.”
Not enjoying lacrosse was certainly a red flag for the athletic Wharton.
Wharton played football as a freshman and sophomore at Camden Catholic, took off his junior year, and then returned as a senior under first-year Coach Nick Strom, but “lacrosse was always number one with me,” he said.
Wharton’s cousin, Joey Tiernan, who had graduated from Eastern, was going to play for the Ospreys. And Wharton also was friends with some other South Jersey players at Stockton.
“I called the coach and he called me back right away and honestly he's the reason I came to Stockton,” Wharton said about Kevin Zulauf. “He’s a really good guy and I never experienced wanting to play for someone so much. He just makes us better teammates and better people.”
Zulauf, who finished his eighth season as the Stockton head coach, has built the program into a consistent winner. Over the last four seasons, the Ospreys are 58-21. He was voted Skyline Conference Coach of the Year in 2015 and 2017.
Wharton, who helped the Ospreys to a school-record 16 wins, became the third player in Stockton men's lacrosse history to receive All-America Honorable Mention recognition, joining Scott Berkheimer in 2005 and Nick Bologno two years ago.
He didn’t know about the honor initially, but Wharton's phone blew up with a bunch of texts, and they all said some version of “congrats” and then it hit him.
Wharton also was voted first team Skyline Conference after starting all 19 games and collecting 35 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers. Wharton grabbed at least one grounder in 18 games. He snagged a season-high five against FDU-Florham.
He truly is a team player, who knows he doesn’t need to score to make a game-changing impact.
“When I was younger, I was more aggressive and I was taller too and so when playing lacrosse, I would always get penalties,” Wharton said. “The coaches were like ‘well, you like to hit kids, so you're playing defense,’ and I liked it.”
He paced the Ospreys’ defense that led the Skyline Conference with an 8.21 goals against average.
“This year, I wasn't sure how we would be because we were really young,” Wharton said. “We were mostly freshman and sophomores, but we started clicking really well.”
The Osprey were runner-ups for the third straight year in the Skyline.
“Stockton lacrosse is really up-and-coming,” Wharton said. “Every year, the past four years, we have broken the wins record.”
In 2016, Zulauf led Stockton to a school-record 15 wins along with appearances in the Skyline and ECAC championship games. The previous season the Ospreys made the program’s first visit to the Skyline championship game after winning 13 games for the second-straight year. In 2014, Stockton set a school record with 13 wins.
“We are real young, we only graduate one senior starter,” said Wharton.
Wharton has two years eligibility remaining - two more seasons to remind him how thrilled he is to have come home.
And, surely, Zulauf is thrilled Wharton is back home and going to college in Galloway Township.
“Our coach is awesome and everyone on the team loves him,” Wharton said. “He makes all the guys better and he makes all the guys want to play for him.
“He literally works his tail off.”