The National Lacrosse League is home to the best box lacrosse players in the world. They are at the top of their game, put on stellar athletic performances and have diehard, competitive attitudes.
With lacrosse action suspended until the pandemic has subsided, NLL players have been missing the game fiercely. Thankfully, they have stayed busy in their day-to-day lives. They’ve spent more time with friends and family, honed different types of skills, and remained grounded during this tumultuous moment in history.
Gloves Off is a 13-installment series that peels back the layers of our athletes to uncover more about their lifestyle and personal lives, learning about their hobbies, passions and more, with the goal of making them inherently more relatable to their fans.
The Rochester Knighthawks’ Doug Utting counts his blessings every day for the support he receives in his life. From his parents to his coaches, to his fiancé Mel, he’s been able to play the long game in both lacrosse and life.
Utting joined the Knighthawks just before his 28th birthday following a winding career through Ontario’s lacrosse system. It began with minor lacrosse in Brockville, with stops in CUFLA (London and North Bay), Sr. B (Ottawa), Major Series Lacrosse (Cobourg) and the Arena Lacrosse League (Peterborough).
“It was not a typical path,” Utting laughs.
While he was touring Ontario through lacrosse, he was also doing it for his education. The first stop was the University of Western Ontario, where his parents met, for his undergrad in business.
Following his time at Western, Utting took a year off to travel and think about his next steps. Though it’s not his current path, owning his own business one day isn’t out of the question.
He decided on two years at Nipissing to obtain his Bachelor of Education, following in his sister’s footsteps, and then a year and a half at Queens for his Master’s degree in Education. Over seven-plus years of schooling allowed him to pursue a position at Loyalist College in Belleville as a professor in the Developmental Services Worker program. It trains students to become educational assistants and support workers for people with intellectual disabilities.
Growing up, that’s something he had first-hand experience with. His mom was a family support coordinator, and his parents also opened their home as a host family for people with intellectual disabilities.
“We had a child around my age that would spend one weekend a month with us. Whatever we were doing, if we were going to hockey tournaments or family events, he always joined us,” Utting explains. “When I got older I took on roles as a support worker in the community. Leading up to my time at Loyalist, I was supporting a teenager to access sports within his community and to play a valued role on his local soccer and hockey teams.”
He credits his parents with instilling in him the passion for helping others reach their potential and “encouraging my sister and I to get to know people of all abilities and backgrounds. My parents have been great role models and have had a strong influence on me. They’re so supportive and together they have always been two of my biggest fans.”
Utting teaches a variety of different courses including the Evolution of Developmental Services and Inclusive Practice, a course he designed after a lot of research and collaboration with his department colleagues. The course is focused around inclusivity in education, employment and recreation, from which he can draw on his own experiences.
“The program really looks at the strengths of people with intellectual disabilities and what they can contribute to their communities, which often isn’t the case – the focus is placed on their deficits or what they can’t do,” Utting states. “When you’re relating that to lacrosse, everybody on the team has a role that they can play. They have something that they can contribute and bring to the team. That really connects my specific role at Loyalist with my experiences as a lacrosse player.”
Utting typically teaches for 2-3 hours per day in addition to creating lesson plans, meeting with students, attending school events and marking assignments.
He’s grateful for the support of the college in encouraging him to be a professional athlete in the NLL.
“Not only is the Dean really supportive of my time, but my program coordinator and the other faculty in the program have been extremely helpful getting me settled as a new professor,” he says. “We’re a team, we support one another and there are certain times when our lives are busier, but we always make sure we’re not sacrificing the student experience.”
His first year in the NLL was a busy one, as he was just finishing up his master’s degree and also needed time off to represent Israel at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship in addition to starting at Loyalist.
Utting’s path to the NLL mimicked his path to his role at Loyalist, and he easily draws parallels between the long journeys to both.
“There are valuable lessons that come from team sports like collaboration and perseverance. You sacrifice on and off the floor for the good of the team, ahead of your individual success. Definitely the traveling I’ve done for lacrosse has taught me about what it takes to accomplish goals,” he laughs, remembering the seven-hour round trip from Nipissing to Peterborough for ALL games.
Playing in the ALL and MSL allowed him to play year round and be exposed to a higher-level of competitive lacrosse, with the ALL featuring up-and-comers and the summer MSL featuring plenty of off-season NLL stars.
As a rookie defenseman for the Knighthawks, Utting averaged 17:59 seconds of floor time in 2019-20 before the season was called because of the pandemic. He scored one goal and scooped 47 loose balls.
“I really appreciated Dan Carey taking a chance on me,” Utting says. “It was a long journey.”
And another journey is just beginning for Utting: he proposed to his long–time girlfriend Melanie in January, so the two have been spending time planning their upcoming wedding.
“The first few weeks we were all-in on planning; we got the venue and a lot of things locked down and then we took a step back and realized the wedding is still a year and a half away,” he chuckles. “Now we’re focusing on spending time together and enjoying the extra time we’ve had during the pandemic.”
They’re also adopting a golden retriever puppy in a few weeks, which Utting says will be a new experience for him.
“It’ll be good preparation for having kids one day. I’m looking forward to it, but banking all the sleep that I can right now.”