By: Adam Levi
When Trevor Baptiste entered Philadelphia Wings training camp, he felt lost.
In his first practice, the Wings coaching staff had organized drills for the team to run and everyone was clear as to what they had to do. Everyone except Baptiste.
Even after setting NCAA DI field lacrosse face-off records while at the University of Denver, winning an NCAA DI Men’s Lacrosse Championship, and then being labelled by some as ‘the greatest face-off man of all-time,’ it couldn’t prepare him for his introduction to the NLL.
“I remember the first practice in training camp. The coaches said, ‘OK, let’s do this drill,’ and most of the guys ran out there – it seemed like such a simple drill – but I had no idea what was going on,” joked Baptiste.
“I felt so stupid; I had no idea what we were doing. It took me a couple of rounds to figure out the gist of the drill.”
Less than six months later, Baptiste has set a new NLL rookie record for face-offs with 333. He only needs six more face-off wins in his final game on April 20th to break the NLL’s single-season face-off wins record of 338, set by Jay Thorimbert in 2015.
As embarrassing as it may have seemed to be confused by a simple box lacrosse drill, the moment (and the results that followed) was a microcosm of Baptiste’s desire to adapt, learn and then excel, something that has been in his DNA all of his life.
From his early days of nearly drowning while swimming as a child, to winning numerous medals in the pool, or taking his first face-off draw in his mid-teens, and becoming one of the most dominant face-off men field lacrosse has ever seen – Baptiste’s record-setting rookie season proves he is always looking to improve.
“Once you think you know everything about something, that’s when you stop doing that thing,” said Baptiste. “That’s how I’ve always looked at everything when it comes to sports and in life.
“I think learning is fun. I think it’s cool.”
In regards to his box lacrosse career, Baptiste ironically began to learn more about the indoor game while playing field lacrosse collegiately for the Pioneers. Not only did he suit up for the inaugural season of the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League in the summer of 2017, he distinctly remembers practicing box skills with his assistant coaches, Matt Brown (who founded the CCBLL) and John Orsen, a former member of the now-defunct New York Titans.
By the fall of 2018, Baptiste had graduated and decided he was going to give the NLL a try. In late September he was drafted by the Wings, and that’s when, as was to be expected, he put his learning cap back on.
Baptiste recalls those fall days when he, along with coaches Brown and Orsen, would spend time indoors on the University of Denver campus preparing him for his first NLL season.
“Me, coach Orsen and coach Brown would do one-on-ones all the time in Magness Arena,” said Baptiste. “Coach Orsen would hop the deck, and coach Brown would play offence, and I’d go one-on-one with coach Brown. We would go over shooting drills and how you want to move, and all sorts of things like that.”
It’s fair to say that those extra workouts have helped him adjust into the NLL, even if it couldn’t spare him that awkward moment in his first practice. But the indoor game is still very foreign to Baptiste. Although he is excelling at the face-off dot in the NLL, the New Jersey-native says he is still adapting to the tempo of the game, the size of the floor and the thickness of the midline.
Each game is a lesson within itself. This makes the relationship between Baptiste with his willingness to learn, and the desire of Wings head coach/GM Paul Day, for his face-off star to grow, a perfect combination. Day understands that he has a generational talent with Baptiste under his wing, but believes that the rookie phenom has only scratched the surface of his potential in this league.
“You’ve got to do more than just win face-offs,” said Day, “[Geoff] Snider could score goals and play defence. Jay Thormibert was scoring more a couple of years ago and plays defence.”
Expanding Baptiste’s game to play more in the back-end is the long-term plan, but his play this year isn’t getting overlooked by Day and the Wings staff.
“When it’s all said and done, Trevor and [Rochester Knighthawks defenseman] Jake Withers will be considered two of the best all-around face-off guys,” said Day. “[Baptiste] could go down as one of the best players of all-time and that speaks to his coachability.”
Considering how far he’s come, and how far he’s projected to go, maybe feeling lost in the NLL was the best thing that could’ve happened to Baptiste. As philosopher Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Not until we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves.”