Defensive coordinators will have tons of things to worry about when the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays take the field in 2007. On top of the list, and there are lists, will be junior midfielder Paul Rabil, whose 6-foot-3 230-pound frame makes him imposing just to look at, much less cover.
Rabil has size, speed and a rocket-launcher shot from either hand to go along with maturity and smarts. He's the complete package and should be considered a prime candidate to be holding the Tewaaraton Trophy when lacrosse's version of the Heisman Trophy is awarded in June.
But Rabil's Tewaaraton chances are tied to how well his team does. Remember, only one Tewaaraton winner - Hofstra's Doug Shanahan - has come from a team that failed to win a Division-I crown, and that was in the award's inaugural year, 2001.
At this point, the print media perception of the Jays is that while they may be on the short list of potential national championship contenders, they're not at the top of it. E-Lacrosse ranks the Jays number 1 pre-season, but some think Hopkins, which posted a 9-5 record a year ago, could have difficulty providing enough firepower to go all the way. Most agree that Rabil's play will determine the Jays' ability to go toe-to-toe with more offensive-minded foes, namely Virginia, Syracuse and, possibly, Princeton.
Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala feels his offense will be a Jays' strong suit in 2007. "We have more experience on that side of the ball," he said. "We have some depth there, too."
The depth includes Junior attackman Kevin Huntley who is a tough lefty matchup for any defender. Likewise, junior midfielder Stephen Peyser and senior attackman Jake Byrne are likely to give rival longsticks fits. And there's quality along with quantity. While Rabil's 38 points led the club last spring (25 goals and 13 assists), it was his shooting percentage (.347) - second only to Huntley's .353 for those Blue Jays with 20 or more shots - that shows just how dangerous the DeMatha (Md.) product is.
When you consider that Huntley is an inside dodger who shoots mainly from inside 10 yards, Rabil's accuracy is downright scary from someone whose offerings come from somewhere between 12 to 15 yards away. That alone should make Rabil the must-stop guy for enemy defenders, who will be quick to slide toward him.
Quick slides, Pietramala said, will only play into the hands of new offensive coordinator Bob Benson, a former JHU All-America attackman. "Paul's a very unselfish player," Pietramala said. "And in our system, the quicker you give the ball up, the quicker you may get it back on the back side. Paul's seeing that he doesn't have to do it all by himself.
He wants to spread the ball around, and Paul's very good at doing that."
"Paul used to get two-poled and three-poled when he was a freshman, because Kyle (Harrison) got the No. 1 guy," Pietramala said. "Paul was able to see how Kyle handled that, and now Paul's the one getting the lead guy."
Rabil takes pride in the challenges ahead. "This is a badge of honor," he says. "Whether I am playing against the best pole or a short stick defender, my job will not change. My job is to dodge my man and get the offense rolling."
Don't get the wrong idea. When Rabil does see an opening, he usually doesn't hesitate, taking that linebacker body to the cooker. "I like to believe that I have the ability to separate myself from my defender," he said. "That is what I take pride in most. Not my shot, but my ability to create offense and open up opportunities for not only myself but my teammates."
Using that big frame, Rabil can usually find a way to shake free, even if it means getting physical. "When you have a guy as athletic and as big as he is, with a very quick first couple of steps who can run through checks, it's tough to stop," said Pietramala, who compared Rabil to former Princeton great Josh Sims. "In practice the other day, he knocked a defenseman completely over on his way to the goal."
Rabil hit the ground running in his rookie campaign, starting 12 of 16 games for the unbeaten national champions. He was a runner-up in team goals, assists and points and was the first Blue Jay freshman to garner All-America honors (Third Team) since Milford Marchant in 1993. He also produced four goals in a stunning 12-11 comeback verdict over Syracuse in the Carrier Dome that season.
"Fortunately I was able to play alongside guys like Kyle Harrison, Matt Rewkowski and Greg Peyser," Rabil said. "All three were successful midfielders here at JHU and taught me how to adjust to the college pace. My goal this year is to act similarly as an upperclassman and lead our newly touted freshman in the right direction."
And that may be the key in the end. Not many folks recall that it was the freshman Rabil who made the pass to Benson Erwin in the classic 2005 national semifinal overtime triumph over Virginia. The win propelled the Blue Jays to their first title in 18 years and Kyle Harrison into Tewaaraton immortality.
February 20, 2007
Photos courtesy Johns Hopkins Sports Information
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