goal for the “American” squad in the fourth quarter of the Nike Senior National All-Star Game by miming a bench press he had scripted in pregame warmups with his teammates. 

"> Meet Bobby Van Buren, the Most Unique Prospect in the Class of 2021 | USA Lacrosse Magazine


Meet Bobby Van Buren, the Most Unique Prospect in the Class of 2021

Bobby Van Buren took off. He flew into the offensive end on the Boys’ Latin School of Maryland’s lower turf field, evaded several defenders, then fired home a low-and-away lefty bounce shot on the run. He celebrated the goal for the “American” squad in the fourth quarter of the Nike Senior National All-Star Game by miming a bench press he had scripted in pregame warmups with his teammates. 

So much of Van Buren’s story, though, does not hew to a conventional script. He didn’t attend some vaunted private school or public power whose rosters teem with Division I talent. Instead, he navigated a road less traveled. The second-ranked defenseman in the Class of 2021 according to Inside Lacrosse and the No. 12 overall recruit has a passion for exercise science and prides himself on being a scoring threat in transition while remaining a lockdown presence on the other end.

He will make his biggest transition yet next month when he arrives at Ohio State — the third largest university in the country, which in 2020 had an enrollment of 61,369 students. That was only its Columbus campus. 

A North Carolina native, Van Buren was homeschooled since the second grade. He graduated from Shanan Classical — a Christian-based, homeschool tutorial and co-op program — on June 7. 

His graduating class included six other students. 

“It’s definitely going to be a big change, but I’m excited and ready for it,” Van Buren said.

“He’s wired differently.”

— Ryan Flanagan

In many ways, his educational and athletic journeys are intertwined.

“He’s so internally motivated because of the different path he took,” said 2010 Schmeisser Award winner and UNC alum Ryan Flanagan, who coached Van Buren for the past two years on Team 24/7. “He didn’t have everything laid out for him. In that homeschool environment, he got to take a little more ownership of his academic development and everything in his life. He owns his process, and his parents have done an outstanding job allowing him to be an individual and make decisions for himself.” 

“My wife and I have always had the philosophy that it’s their lives,” said Frank Van Buren, Bobby’s father, who before his 23-year career at Wells Fargo, where he’s now a Managing Director, served six years in the U.S. Army as a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot. ”Whatever they’re really interested in, we just try to enable that.” 

When it came to their middle child, that meant lacrosse. Van Buren was introduced to the sport at the age of 8 when his mom, Donna, who guided his homeschool journey, enrolled him in a local athletics clinic for homeschooled students in the area. Van Buren loved it immediately. A third-degree black belt in Taekwondo who’s been known to pull off somersaults when he gets pushed to the turf, he gravitated more towards lacrosse by the time his family moved 45 miles south of Charlotte to a 30-acre property in Wingate (N.C.) (pop. 4,258) in 2015. 

The setting afforded him the flexibility and space to pursue his passions. 

“It’s not like straight up you’re always at home, don’t see the outside world kind of thing,” Van Buren said of the homeschool experience, which he noted he didn’t regret in any way. “It’s just more independence.” 

Although Frank Van Buren put 190,000 miles on his 2015 blue Toyota Tundra driving to club tournaments over the past five years, the signs of his oldest son’s internal motor surfaced earlier. After reading the New York Times bestselling book “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcom Gladwell that’s best known for popularizing the “10,000 hour rule,” Frank Van Buren jokingly told Bobby he’d buy him any defensive pole he wanted at Dick’s Sporting Goods if he completed 10,000 passes off the backyard rebounder.

He had a deal. 

The reps started to add up. Five hundred one day. Two hundred the next. They created an Excel spreadsheet to help chart the progress.

“Low and behold, over a couple weeks, he completed 10,000 throws,” said Frank Van Buren, who true to his word bought Bobby — 10 at the time — the Brine d-pole he wanted. “Holy cow, I remember thinking, this kid has a tremendous work ethic at a young age.”

The Van Burens used to own a couple chickens but no longer have any farm animals on their property. Instead, the 120-foot long barn with 16 horse stalls was populated for a couple years solely with a squat rack and other weightlifting equipment that Bobby Van Buren researched and picked out himself. He’s since moved the setup into the family’s two-car garage. 

“It’s not abnormal to look out on a 105-degree North Carolina summer day, and he’s in the fields practicing footwork by himself or doing box jumps in the horse riding arena,” Frank Van Buren said earlier this week from the front porch of the family’s red brick home. “I don’t think I ever told him to workout. That’s all him.” 

“His club coaches have certainly done a great job, but Bobby’s done a lot on his own, too,” said Ohio State head coach Nick Myers. “He’s really honed his skills in the shadows.”

Watching Van Buren play in person recently after only seeing him on film the past year because of the pandemic, Myers was most impressed by his strength and power. Since the age of 15, Van Buren has studied and applied how to make himself a better athlete. His interest in the topic delves well beyond simple gains. He breaks down film with the same level of detail that he analyzes biomechanical papers or the Ohio State training packet. He wants to know not only how, but why he’s doing a certain workout. 

“Whereas the average kid watches some training video on YouTube or Instagram and moves on, Bobby’s getting into scientific journals that are well beyond something that you or I would be able to understand,” Flanagan said. “That’s just his mentality and how driven he is to be successful. He’s wired differently.”  

Ohio State’s highly rated kinesiology major specializing in exercise science and world class facilities were a big draw in the recruitment process. North Carolina and Virginia, where Van Buren’s parents each earned degrees, were both on his final list and offered more traditional routes. His decision to head to Columbus underscored his willingness to be himself and do things his own way.

Part of the first class that committed after September 1 of their junior years, Van Buren was also the first homeschooled student Myers said he ever recruited. The trajectory is not fully unprecedented. Rising junior Maryland attacker Hannah Leubecker played for the Sky Walkers Club Program and a Fellowship of Christian Athletes national high school team while being homeschooled in Forest Hill (Md.). This past spring, Leubecker led Cathy Reese’s Terrapins with 58 goals — the third-most goals in the Big Ten. 

“They always looked at it as who had their kids’ time had their kids’ heart,” Leubecker said of her parents on “The Stick Drop,” a USA Lacrosse Magazine podcast hosted by Sheehan Stanwick-Burch. 

Van Buren played exclusively club ball, first for Team Carolina then for Team 24/7. The summer circuit offered the best competition. Spring served as more of an offseason. Several top programs like IMG Academy and the Taft School reached out before he entered the ninth grade.

“They would have been absolutely wonderful options, but for Bobby, it wasn’t the right path,” Frank Van Buren said.


To gain greater visibility, the Van Burens traveled to every tournament they could within reason, racking up the miles along the way. A turning point happened in the summer of 2019 before Bobby Van Buren’s junior year. With the time winding down in overtime during the first game of the Crab Feast tournament in Baltimore against FCA, he tripped over a sandbag that was resting on the back of the goal. His man scored. Van Buren laid on the turf face down for about a minute as his teammates came to console him. 

“That was the dagger for me,” he said. “I felt like I let the whole team down and wasn’t playing my best.”

Later that night when the Van Burens settled back into their hotel room after they watched the Whipsnakes defeat the Atlas at Homewood Field, Bobby looked to his father for advice. 

“What did you do when you played football and you didn’t play the way you knew you could?” he asked. 

Frank Van Buren earned all-conference honors at Division II Shippensburg and harbored NFL dreams. A severe left knee injury his junior season scuttled those plans, but he rehabbed fully and earned the Ray Ellis Fighting Heart award his senior year. He believes peak learning occurs during moments of adversity. 

He responded with a question of his own. 

“When you’re on the field, what are you thinking about?” 

“I’m thinking about playing a perfect game and not making any mistakes,” Bobby replied.

“You should be trying to focus on making great plays.” 

Those last three words became their battle cry. Make great plays. The next morning, Van Buren looked liberated, extending out the perimeter and displaying the skillset Myers now believes has the ability to change how the Buckeyes approach that side of the ball. A week later, Van Buren played what he felt like was some of the best lacrosse of his life at Maverik Showtime. He cemented himself as one not only the best defenders, but overall players, in the class. He committed to Ohio State on October 6, 2019.

A little more than two years to the date of that conversation in Baltimore, Van Buren will take the field for the South team under the lights at Homewood in the Under Armour All-America Game. 

Frank and Bobby Van Buren drove up together to Maryland yesterday in the Tundra. It’s a route they know well, having made the trip dozens of times before to show that Bobby belonged with the country’s top talents. Earlier this summer, however, he completed the same 16-hour round trip by himself for the first time in his Toyota Tacoma to attend a First Class Defense training session. 

“You don’t need me,” his father told him.

“The first phase of his journey is complete,” Frank Van Buren said. “He’s his own man. At some point, everyone’s got to fly on their own. We have 100 percent confidence in him and know that he has the tools to chart his own course.”