More Than Meets the Buckeye

Originally appeared in March 2017 issue of US Lacrosse magazine

Eric Fannell’s reputation — intimidating, aloof, with the lore of an unseen Canadian talent — preceded him. And in some ways, people were right about him. The kid dressed in all black and wore his hat low, covering a buzz cut. He kept answers about himself to one word, avoided eye contact.

Fannell, as Ohio State men’s lacrosse captain Tyler Pfister put it, was “rough around the edges.” That was Pfister’s first impression, at least, when he met his new teammate and helped him move into a one-bedroom apartment in August of 2015.

Coach Nick Myers tabbed Pfister, an Ohio native, to help with Fannell’s transition from St. Catharines, Ontario — by way of tiny Division III Adrian College in Michigan — to Columbus. Gradually, over the course of lunches three to four times a week, usually at Asian restaurants like Mark Pi’s on High Street, Fannell’s tough outer layers peeled away like flaky crust falling off an egg roll.

Fannell’s father, Steve, a former Team Canada member and National Lacrosse League pro, as many people in the tight-knit, blue-collar St. Catharines lacrosse community already knew, was and is a drug addict, and no longer in Eric’s life. They haven’t spoken in seven years. And, yes, while some teammates probably still don’t know, the younger Fannell battled addiction problems himself. He drank, he says, two to three times a week at age 14. It was enough that his grandfather, Lincoln, took him to Alcoholics Anonymous when Eric was in high school.

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Doesn’t Get Much Better Than Army-Navy

Saturday was my first Army-Navy game.

I didn’t play. I didn’t sweat, at least not to the point where it was noticeable. I didn’t parachute in like three men courageously did in a stiff wind during pre-game ceremonies. No, I just showed up to Navy Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., along with roughly 10,000 others on Saturday afternoon, and watched what unfolded.

I took a few pictures on my phone, tweeted and wrote about the game afterward, but that story – while it described how Navy ended Army’s six-game winning streak in the series with a huge fourth-quarter rally – probably missed the bigger picture. And, no, not the Patriot League playoff race, although that is important. But how great the whole day was in general, and why can’t there be more games like this one?

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Great Day to be a Tar Heel

Originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Lacrosse Magazine

The ghosts of North Carolina teams of the past quarter century — the talk of not winning the big game and why — were nowhere to be found at 4:35 p.m. on Memorial Day Monday in the visiting locker room at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Joe Breschi’s last dab, the Cam Newton-inspired dance that made the Tar Heels’ coach Internet famous a week earlier after the program broke a 23-year final four drought, brushed those bad vibes out for another generation.

“Dad’s like the dab guy now,” Breschi’s wife, Judy, said, standing nearby, with three of the couple’s four daughters in toe. They had all just spent time celebrating on the field of the NFL’s Eagles. “I cried … and I cried again,” 10-year-old Lucy said in a stream of consciousness to no one in particular.

Beneath the south end zone seats, a party raged. Most of the 46 members of the 2016 edition of the Tar Heels gathered in the center of the long room, doing a dance of their own, gyrating in unison to house music that would make most DJs proud. Equipment, sweaty white-and-Carolina blue jerseys and other garments were scattered about, soaked by the perspiration of North Carolina’s epic 14-13 overtime win against top-seeded Maryland in an instant classic title game.

“We just won the national championship!” Breschi said, as if he couldn’t believe it.

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