TREVOR BAPTISTE crouched at midfield to start the second quarter of Denver's Big East semifinal against Villanova. At the referee's whistle he clamped the head of his stick onto the ball, pulled it away from his opponent and scooped it up. Then, after passing to a teammate, he sprinted off the field.
The play lasted all of 10 seconds, but Baptiste's value—he was the Big East midfielder of the year—can't be quantified by playing time. "I haven't seen any freshman come in and be so dominant," Terry Foy, the editor of Inside Lacrosse, said of the 18-year old from Denville, N.J. Baptiste (above, right) has helped the Pioneers win a national title by dominating on the draw, an activity that has become so specialized it spawned its own acronym: FOGO (face off, get off).
Baptiste found lacrosse in sixth grade and started taking face-offs during his sophomore year at Morristown-Beard School. He plunged into the role, taking hundreds of reps a day and working with Chris Mattes, a face-off specialist who plays for the MLL's Florida Launch. He even made a playlist on his iPhone titled "Down, Set" with 20 whistles of different cadences that he uses to hone his reaction time when he's practicing on his own. In games, Baptiste sticks with four main moves—the clamp, jam, razor and quick rig—but there are dozens of variations on each. "It's a very technical position and there are a lot of nuances that most people look past," Mattes said. "Trevor has dedicated himself to the craft."
The work has paid off. The 5'10", 215-pound Baptiste set the season record for face-off wins by a freshman (259), and led Division I this season in win percentage (.699). His eight goals have all come on fast breaks triggered by face-off wins, often the only time he stays on the field. "He's strong, he's athletic, he's quick, he's smart," said Marquette coach Joe Amplo. "We threw the kitchen sink at him, but nothing could slow him down."
Greg Gurenlian, a face-off specialist for Team USA, offers drills to improve reaction time and hand speed
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JOHN BAKER/COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF DENVER ATHLETICS (BAPTISTE)
ILLUSTRATIONS BY JASON LEE