For the last month, there has been only one thing occupying my thoughts – my upcoming trip to the NLL Combine.
Never had a month gone by so slowly, yet creeped up just as quick at the same time. The original plan was to write about the first night of the combine, and our thoughts about it. What we didn’t plan on was being invited out to the ILA (Iroquois Lacrosse Arena) for a pick-up game, on the day way got in. To add to that, we spontaneously decided to visit the TRAC on Friday, got to meet Colin Doyle, and Coach Troy Cordingley of the Buffalo Bandits; we even got to shoot around with Brett Hickey! From a personal point of view, this was a slightly better option than writing an article in my hotel room.
Sounds like a full weekend of fun already, right? Our trip was made, by this point. We could have gladly packed up our bags and been satisfied, but the trip was just beginning.
NLL Combine – Day 1 – Sports Testing/Practice:
The day started off pretty quiet, as the nerves settled in, and we realized it was time for business. It’s what we’ve all been anticipating, for the last month. It was no longer a thought, or a dream. Reality was setting in, and regardless of the outcome, we had something to prove to ourselves. It was time to write another chapter in the books.
Upon entering the TRAC, you can immediately see everyone lined up at the front desk; gear-bags and sticks in hand. For me, I’ve always been a nervous wreck before anything like this, and this event was by far the most meaningful. First off, I’m a kid from TX… That has enough reason to make you question yourself, as you walk into a room that’s dominant of Canadian box talent.
Second, I’ve never played a “true” box game with actual box experience. Sure, we try to emulate box as much as possible back home, and we do have a few guys who have respectively played box. But we’ve never played with Canadians, nor do we have kids that have been playing the box game for the last 16-18 years of their lives. All of this is going through my head, for the 5 minutes that we were standing in line, while waiting to sign in and get our jersey.
At this point, my palms are sweating, and when it was my turn to sign in, my name and signature turned out to look like the scribbles of a 2nd grader. I did land the number #45, however, which I feel gave me some good luck. After sitting down, everyone would curiously scan the room and examine each other, some had played with or against each other, and many had not. We decided to take our gear into a locker room, and started getting ready.
Immediately, like in any other lacrosse setting, guys started talking and cracking jokes, which helped ease a lot of the tension we might have had. But, this ultimately made me realize that we all had some form of anxiety worked up towards this weekend, and actually made it easier to talk and get along with one another. Let’s face it, we’re all here to compete against one another for an invite to camp, and there’s no way around the nerves once when they kick in. There’s always been a saying though, “if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough”.
We all decided to toss around, while the sports testing equipment was being set-up on the main field, and got our warm-up and stretches in. We would be given wristbands that were numbered, which would let us know when we would be testing, and fortunate for me, I was towards the end of the group. This gave me a chance to watch everyone, and get a feel for what I was about to partake in. Unfortunately, when it was my turn to run through the drills, I still managed to mess up a few, which defeated the whole purpose of me previously watching others do theirs. So much for that, right? I guess the nerves are letting me know they’re still there.
I was pleased with everything up until the last test, the 300yd shuttle, which everyone was dreading, due to it being the last drill (and the longest). I was the last person, in our group of 3, to complete to “shot and recovery” drill, which required me to also do that twice, and run that much more before the 300yd shuttle. I know I said I’m tired of excuses, but I think it’s safe to say that it had an effect on my 300yd shuttle time. That was it. Sports testing was over, and it was time to get in a stretch before our practice sessions began.
For our practices, each team got their own session, divided into Blue and Red squads. I was assigned to the Red team, and Blue would be up for the night’s first practice session. Somehow, this worked out in my favor, giving me another chance to watch my first true box lacrosse practice setting. We play box down here, but we don’t usually warm up, nor practice full field drills, so this was all very new to me.
The most surreal thing about it was being coached by Tracey Kelusky, and getting instruction from a Hall-of- fame pedigree mind. This wasn’t just any coach, this guy is the real deal! I felt like a kid at lacrosse camp again! I’m still trying to process the drills, and draw them back up on paper, so I can run my kids through them. The pace and amount of touches we got, was insane, to say the least. It took me a few runs to get adjusted, but adapted quickly, and even got a nice assist by the end of the night.
I now know why Canadians, box players specifically, have tremendous stick skills. If any practice these guys endure was even half the pace of what we did at the combine, the United States might want to step it up for the next World Games; and any future competition we plan on having in lacrosse, with our neighbors up North. You can read more about our first night of practice from our buddies over at Inside Lacrosse.
We wrapped up our practice session around 9pm, and would have to be ready for tomorrow’s first 9am scrimmage. Yes, that is correct, “first scrimmage”. We would be having a second one at 12:30. This left virtually no time to get in a decent dinner to replenish, nor enough time to get a nice breakfast to fuel us for the day. But, that wasn’t going to stop us at all.
NLL Combine – Day 2 – Scrimmages:
Waking up, I wasn’t too sore, grabbed my wooden traditional out from the sheets (I slept with it for good luck), and got in a quick stretch. Shawn and I had a quick toss outside, to get the sticks dialed in and the muscles moving. Being in Canada, and up before most places were open for breakfast, we had to make a stop at the infamous “Tim Hortons” for some breakfast and coffee.
I don’t think we were as nervous about today, seeing that we overcame most of that last night, and got to know and talk with most of the guys. If anything, I was nervous about looking out of place on the field, which was just a product of me pointlessly over-thinking and worrying about things I can’t control. I won’t lie though, I was a bit nervous for my first few runs, and catches.
I’ve always had this voice in my head, for the first few passes I get in a game, that always waits until the ball is in the air to make me think “you better not drop this pass. How stupid will you look if you drop this pass?”. Sure enough, one of the first passes I get, I came down to set a pick, and brushed off of it to get the pass. I immediately lost sight of the ball as I turned back (we’ll use the excuse that it slightly blended in with the walls of the facility, my gloves, and stick that was in front of my face), while it trickled down my arm and got stuck between my sleeve and elbow area, I couldn’t help but to prepare and embrace the take-out check that was ensuing.
Sure enough, that was the last dropped pass I made for the remainder of this trip. That was one moment I wish I could redo. Maybe a few more too, like the shot I should have made, but we all have those moments. The Red squad won game one, and that’s what matters!
To say the least, I was surprised we had held our own at this point. No one had yelled at us, nor made any comments or given negative feedback; which made things a lot more enjoyable, and allowed me to start loosening up and playing my game. Although, I might have played more of a team/feeder role this time around, and regret not being a little more selfish, in terms of taking more shots and 1-on-1 opportunities. I was having fun though, I kind of got lost and forgot the fact that there were coaches watching. This was literally my first true box game that I’ve played in. Regardless, if it was a combine game, or whatever setting you want to call it as. I say “true”, meaning players who have played their whole lives, and are at the level of talent/IQ that they have. We don’t see this caliber of play here in the the states, nonetheless down in Texas. So, this was quite a treat, and definitely something I will learn from and cherish forever.
Trying to fuel up for the second scrimmage was the toughest; just previously coming off of an hr game, and having to regroup for another 60 mins of battle. What was cool, was the recognition that people had given us, due to being all the way from Texas. We were able to get in a few interviews with Mia Gordon from the NLL. But, I felt like it put a target on our backs, to an extent. I feel maybe others saw it as us seeking the spotlight, or just upset that they are higher up on the prospect list, and aren’t getting enough coverage, etc. Or maybe that was, once again, a product of my over-thinking and paranoia about peer judgement. Maybe no one cared at all.
Maybe it was me thinking that there were a handful of guys that I was playing side-by-side with, whom I thought deserved some attention. In reality, I’m sure anyone in my position would have said “screw it”, and had as much fun as possible in front of the camera. I guess, we did drive 23+ hours to attend this, who wouldn’t want to ask us about it?
The Blue team came out to play during the second scrimmage, no doubt about it. There was rumor that the blue team was the team with all the top prospects, but not sure how accurate that was. Either way, they probably had a chip on their shoulder from their previous loss to us. We were definitely fatigued, and didn’t play near as well as we did in the first game. The one thing I did do differently in this game, was take more chances for myself, and to try and set myself up for success on the field.
I had to do a dive shot before the end of the game, but it had to be setup right, and I had to score at least once, whether it was a product of the dive-shot or not. To say the least, my opportunities came about, as I got a shot rebound and came around the backside of the crease, to see an opening on the far pipe. As I was going to dive, Travis screamed out the command from the bench, which pretty much triggered the goalies reaction to cram the pipe, and so he did. Thanks Travis!
I was still determined though, and would get another opportunity shortly, as I would come off the bench late to join the offense. Reece Runco was bringing it down in transition, as he came around the top of the box, he found me coming of the bench late and dished it over to me. At this point, I had been recently coached to take advantage of the 30 second shot clock, and utilize that time to get a good shot off.
For some reason though, my defender didn’t engage me, with 22 seconds left on the shot-clock and a wide-open lane, I gave a cradle or two to see what the goalie was going to do, and then rocketed that ball home to the 5-hole, which I had to get from the ref afterwards (wouldn’t you?).
That’s history, right there! First Texan to score in the TRAC, and first Texan to score a senior goal in Canada, I’m claiming the title! Unless, someone wants to do some extensive research and rain on my parade?! I’m sure I am the first Texan to do something at the TRAC. I’ll take it.
The Red squad would go on to lose the last game, but if I could, I’d chose to play with those guys any day. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to battle with, and am kind of bitter that it all had to happen and end so soon. Over a month of anticipation, preparation, and anxiety has all come to an end. That’s how life is though, and you have to cherish every moment for what it’s worth. All good things come to an end, and this was one of them. But, it’s the beginning of a new journey for me, my quest to see if I have what it takes to make it to the NLL one day. If I try and fail, I will only grow old with no regrets. At least I can say I tried though, right?
NLL Combine – Day 3 – Draft:
We’ll first off, we didn’t expect to stay this long, but somehow got coerced into attending the NLL Draft. We really would have liked to begin the 23+ hr journey back home, but how can you not attend, when you’re already here and have the option? It wound up being an awesome night, getting to see one of our good buddies Latrell Harris get drafted by the Toronto Rock, after talking to him prior and hearing him say “he doesn’t know if he’s getting drafted or not”. It was a great thing to see someone’s dreams come true, and at such a young age of 18 too. I remember being that age, and only wish I had my priorities right, like Latrell and all the other young men I was surrounded by that weekend. I simply grew up in the wrong part of the country, to play lacrosse.
We didn’t attend with hopes of being drafted, but more so to network and get familiar with the faces and names of the NLL. Having met up with Nick Sakiewicz (NLL Commissioner) at the beginning of summer, we decided to track him down and talk more about the growth of the NLL, as well as box in Texas.
This resulted in us getting some of those awesome New Era Draft caps that you see floating around the interwebs, which was awesome, seeing as you only got one if you were drafted. But, also resulted in some more “TV” time for us, with Mia catching us again for a quick appearance.
On our way out, I had to stop by and thank Coach Kelusky for everything, and even exchanged contact info so we can get their Evolve Elite Box Academy down south. All I have to say is, Tracey and John Grant Jr. operate the academy, so you KNOW it’s top-tier instruction. No questions.
It couldn’t have ended any better though, as we’re going to say our goodbye’s to ILIndoor’s Stephen Stamp, and having him waive us on the NLL Draft’s post show, to finish out the night with them. Again, to be an “average Joe” from Texas, getting that much face time and recognition was surreal. I wasn’t expecting anyone to say “hi” to me, nor people in the crowd asking “are you the Texas guys?”.
You couldn’t have even planned it better, for the way our trip turned out to be. I do believe that things happen for a reason though, and for whatever reason, our trip will definitely be one to remember for a lifetime. The one thing that this trip did bring me, was medicine, just as lacrosse usually does; and the one reason I will continue to play until I’m no longer able.
Thank you to the NLL for this experience, and allowing guys like us, to come and make a name for ourselves; and to all the players/teammates we shared the field with. You showed us southerners great hospitality, and we couldn’t be more grateful for how accepting y’all were towards us. This won’t be the last time you hear about the boys from Texas!