The following article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse.
by Nathan Maciborski
Chris Eck has never been shot at by an enemy. He’s never
provided cover for a friend. He’s never been deployed, never
had post-traumatic stress.
Eck has never served in the military. But some of his closest friends have. The respect and the admiration Eck has for those who protect this country runs deep. So as the 29-year-old faceoff man prepares for his first Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship, the importance of representing the United States, even on a lacrosse field, is not lost on him.
There to remind him of that responsibility is an empty space on the wall of his apartment in Durham, N.C. Next to the framed jerseys from his first college season at Colgate and rookie professional season in Boston is just enough room for a Team USA jersey — and a gold medal.
“I know that the real heroes and the real people who represent our country are dressed in camo,” Eck said. “This is what I can do in my realm of my world to be able to represent our country.”
Making the team is a privilege that Eck has fought long and hard for, from battling through Type-1 diabetes and knee surgeries to getting cut from the 2010 squad. He endured a grueling process overseen by 2014 U.S. team coach Richie Meade, and although Eck is thrilled to have made it, he knows the real work has only just begun.
Eck was the only pure faceoff specialist chosen among the current 30 U.S. players. The last time the World Championship was held on American soil, a 13-year-old Eck travelled with his father from their home in Fairfield, Conn., to Baltimore, where Canada rallied from an 11-1 third-quarter deficit in the final before falling to the U.S. 15-14 in double overtime — one of the greatest men’s lacrosse games in history.
“I was like, ‘I want to do what those guys do,’” Eck said.
Eck returned to Fairfield and dedicated himself to his craft with an enthusiasm and precision rarely seen in a player so young. Andy Towers, now the coach at Dartmouth, recalled being impressed with his technique during a camp when Eck was in seventh grade.
“It was really easy to see, even at that age, that he was just a perfectionist,” Towers said.
The mental aspect of facing off — recognizing opponents’ moves, understanding what moves beat others, telegraphing moves to elicit an expected counter and then countering that counter and so on — is crucial. Eck said Towers introduced him to that facet of the game. It has become Eck’s calling card, a science that sets him apart from nearly every other faceoff man in the world.
“He always knew — even more than the coaches — about the technique and what he was going to do,” said Stony Brook coach Jim Nagle, who coached Eck for four years at Colgate. “So much attention to detail and so much passion about being successful at the faceoff ‘X,’ more than anybody I’ve ever coached at any position.”
After helping the Raiders win their first Patriot League championship, Eck was the first faceoff man selected in the 2008 Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Draft. The Boston Cannons picked him 38th.
On Aug. 9, 2008, Eck made his professional debut in Denver, facing off against the Denver Outlaws’ Geoff Snider. Snider was two years removed from an MVP performance at the 2006 World Championship, where he led Canada to its first gold medal in 28 years. The stocky bruiser had developed a reputation as an antagonist, an enforcer, a villain. But his results were undeniable, which is why so many eyes will be peeled to midfield when Canada and the U.S. face off.
“I can’t wait to watch the two best guys in the world going head to head,” said Towers, who also has worked with Snider. “It’s the pinnacle of the sport, and they’ve earned this opportunity.”
While some portray Eck and Snider as polar opposites in terms of personality, Towers said there are more similarities than people think. Snider’s aptitude for fighting stems from playing box lacrosse in Calgary. But his down-to-earth nature off the field and intelligence on it often go underreported. Eck played a different style of lacrosse as a kid, but his toughness and durability should not be discounted.
Both have “unparalleled” mental toughness, Towers said, and nearly identical techniques despite utilizing different grips (motorcycle for Snider; over-under for Eck). And while Snider may be regarded as the stronger of the two, “strength doesn’t really have anything to do with it,” Towers said. “It’s hand speed and technique. If you have those things and you’re consistently at the front of the whistle, you’re going to be tough to beat.”
Towers expects Eck and Snider to neutralize each other, but Eck said there are other factors on faceoffs. “That’s the focus, because the win or loss is written next to my name,” he said. “But it will have a lot to do with guys coming off my wings, their ability to grab balls that I put out to them, contain a guy like Brodie [Merrill]. It won’t just be me versus Geoff.”
Eck will graduate from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business in May. He purposely put off his start date at Google in New York until late September so that he could focus solely on lacrosse this summer.
“This is the closest I’ll ever come to being a real pro athlete,” he joked.
Eck wears U.S. gear when he works out and wore the same pair of Team USA mesh shorts — the ones he received at the 2010 tryouts — to bed every night for four years so that making this year’s team was the last thing he thought about before falling asleep and the first thing he thought about when he awoke.
Once he made the team, Eck switched to the new 2014 Team USA
shorts as his sleepwear of choice. There’s a new goal —
and a space on his wall that needs filling.