When Jovan Miller first saw Matt Abbott, lacrosse player didn’t exactly run through his mind. The sophomore thought more computer engineer. Nowadays Miller has a new nickname for the senior middie.
“I call him Abb-normal, because the boy is just ridiculous,” Miller said. “He’s probably the best teammate I’ve ever had.”
Four years ago the best recruiting class in the nation was the talk of Syracuse. How great were Dan Hardy, Pat Perritt, and Kenny Nims going to be? It was easy to forget this Abbott kid, a skinny local prospect with a bowl cut and all. Fast-forward and it’s Abbott gaining most of the national attention, his name going hand-in-hand with Player-of-the-Year talk.
“It’s nice to hear, but at the same time it means nothing,” a modest Abbott said. “It’s opinions of people, and I respect the fact that they feel that way, but at the same time, we have to go out this year and as a team we have to win. Regardless of what I do as an individual, the season is a failure if we don’t succeed as a team.”
The funny thing about Abbott is that he won’t score as many goals as Zack Greer, drop assists like Danny Gladding, or play the best defensive midfield in America. What Abbott will do is a little bit of everything, and doing all of it well enough to become a thorn in opponents’ sides. He also plays the wings on faceoffs and is the Orange’s one-man clearing machine.
“In our game of specialization lacrosse,” Syracuse head coach John Desko said, “to have a guy like Matt Abbott, now that you’re hearing coaches say that, they see him out there, and they’re recognizing the value of a guy that can play offense, can play defense, can play man down, gives you all those groundballs with the wing on the faceoff, I think coaches are saying, ‘Wow, he’s doing it all for them.’”
Desko said it’s a realization that’s good for lacrosse. Not a particularly huge fan of specialization, Desko’s hope is that coaches start to not just recognize Abbott’s ability, but also teach young players to be more versatile in their own games. Though often called a throwback, perhaps players like Abbott could once again litter the college ranks.
“It’s kind of always the way I’ve played,” Abbott said. “Back in high school, that’s how I played, and it kind of just carried over to the college game. Throwback or not, it’s the way I’ve always played.”
Part of the reason for why Abbott plays the jack-of-all-trades game might be where he comes from.
“Because it’s a smaller school and a smaller team, when they’ve got an athlete like that they ask him to do a lot,” said Desko of Abbott’s Nottingham High School (Syracuse, NY). “So sometimes in the recruiting process, we won’t just go to those great high schools to get players, because some of the great high schools are like some very good college teams – they’re very specialized.”
With Abbott being a senior, Syracuse will only enjoy his vast skill set for one more season. So that begs the question: who, if anybody, is in line to fill the void? The answer might be a top-10 recruit in John Jay’s Kevin Drew.
“I’m pretty fast,” said the freshman middie Drew. “I just like to hustle on ground balls. That’s my big thing. I just like to play hard and win.”
“It’s kind of like rankings, they can’t really get those right,” Drew said about his preseason hype. “It doesn’t really mean that much until you prove it.”
“People talk about me as being a fast player,” Abbott said. “[Drew’s] fast. I’m struggling to keep up with him in some of the sprints and stuff. He’s a little raw talent wise, but he’s definitely got potential, and he’s going to be huge for us in the years to come.”
Like Abbott, Drew also plays both offense and defense, splitting his high school years. The freshman spent his first two seasons at John Jay starring as a defensive midfielder. He switched to become more offensive minded as a senior. Simply put, Drew is an athlete, as evidenced by his membership on Jim Boeheim’s basketball team during the fall semester.
“The first thing you saw with him is the ability to run up and down the field,” Desko said, “which is what you see with Matt.”
The Cuse Core: Matt Abbott