In sports, there’s being really good at your position and there’s being dominant.
When it comes to Trevor Baptiste at the faceoff dot, the first word that comes to mind is dominance because the Philadelphia Wings star has a resume and the stats that continue to back that up. Through the first three games of this season, Baptiste has won 57 out of 81 draws for a winning percentage of 70% including an unbelievable 25 out of 27 in game one against Panther City.
But Baptiste knows that once he clamps down on the ball and goes to battle against his opponent, winning the faceoff in box lacrosse is more than just as a result of what he’s doing…it’s actually a team effort.
“Faceoffs are something that I’ve been doing for a long time and I’ve kind of gotten a knack for it,” said the 25-year-old Baptiste. “A lot of it, specifically to indoor, is just getting on the same page with the team and obviously going in with a gameplan knowing that the whole ball line is working together to get this ball.”
The former University of Denver star was born in Newark, New Jersey and now calls Denville, New Jersey home. He began his professional career outdoors in Major League Lacrosse when he was drafted first overall by the Boston Cannons in 2018. In 2019, Baptiste moved to Atlas of the Premier Lacrosse League and led the league in faceoff percentage and ground balls in the PLL’s first season.
After his brilliant collegiate career with Denver that included an NCAA Championship in 2015, Baptiste took his talents to the box, joining the NLL’s Philadelphia Wings in 2018 as the 14th overall selection in the 2018 NLL Entry Draft. In his first two seasons in Philly, the 5-10 230-pound Baptiste became as dominant in the box as he was outdoors. He dominated the record for faceoffs won in a season with 362 in 2018-19 as a rookie, 24 more than Jay Thorimbert who held the record since 2015.
He did so having to adjust to the smaller playing surface and strategy.
“A lot of times in indoor there’s so much less space compared to outdoor to really control the ball especially when you add in the over and back rule,” said Baptiste. “You can’t cross over the midfield line and then go back to the other side. All of those things make a really big difference in terms of spacing.”
Outdoors, Baptiste was your prototypical FOGO (faceoff and get off), but this past season he did contribute offensively for the Atlas with four goals and two assists in nine games. While he is known as a “faceoff guy”, there are other elements of the game that Baptiste still loves and he’s been able to develop and show his skills in those areas playing box lacrosse in the CCBLL of the National Collegiate Box Series of USBOXLA prior to be drafted by the Wings and eventually now in the NLL.
When Baptiste was starting out in lacrosse, he had a long stick in hand and also played defense and attack before switching to midfield. During his senior year of high school at Morristown-Beard, not only did he win 80% of his faceoffs but he also scored 42 goals and added 22 assists. Indoors, Baptiste has not only been one of the best if not the best faceoff specialist in the NLL, but he also gets to shoot a little bit, scoring six goals in the shortened 2019-20 season.
Not bad for a “faceoff guy” right?
“I love it,” said Baptiste. “It’s so much fun playing in other areas of the field. My love of the game wasn’t solely connected to my love of faceoffs. What I really do like about box is that it gives me the opportunity to sharpen all those other skills whether that’s playing defense, whether that’s running in transition, taking shots and burying them.”
So, what’s been the secret of Baptiste’s success when it comes to winning faceoffs?
Most faceoff specialists will tell you that having success winning draws comes down to not only winning the physical battle but also to have the right mindset. There are those at the FOGO position who are so mentally tuned in as they approach the dot that they’ve already gained a huge advantage over the opponent.
But as Baptiste see it, winning a faceoff comes down to gaining that advantage both in terms of skill and with technology.
“You’re talking about a position that’s all predicated off milliseconds and hundredths of a second,” said Baptiste. “Everybody is trying to get an edge in all of the categories.”
Baptiste not only has the skills on the field, but he’s also been a driving force in developing the right faceoff head for not only himself but also for his fellow faceoff players of all ages.
In 2019, Baptiste and Warrior introduced the Burn FO, a faceoff head with “unique technology” with a design that allows the faceoff specialist to “wrap around the ball” and get a leg up on the competition.
“It’s really important to have a good head to faceoff with because you’re doing a very specific motion when you’re facing off,” said Baptiste. “You need a head that can be flexible enough to bend and grab the ball, but you also need it to be stiff in areas so that you don’t get pushed off the ball.”
This season, Baptiste is using a new version of the Burn FO and it will be made available to the public in February of 2022. He’s noticed that there has been a “drive” and a “want” from everyone in the sport from the product companies, coaches and those on the personnel side to increase the number of great faceoff players.
“You need one to really compete in the game,” said Baptiste. “You need somebody who can really scrap it up and go 40%. Faceoffs are extremely important to the game.”
To that point, when a team is lacking in a certain area, they go shopping in the off-season to fill that void. A good example of that would be the Vancouver Warriors grabbing Tyrell Hamer-Jackson in 2019-20 and the New York Riptide, who swung a deal in September of 2020 with the Rochester Knighthawks to acquire the NLL’s all-time leading faceoff-specialist, Jay Thorimbert.
He’s had a few battles with Baptiste over the last few years.
“Trevor is a very hard guy to beat clean on the draw,” said Thorimbert, a 13-year NLL veteran. “He’s extremely fast and strong and really gets over the ball with his body. Going against anyone like that, you need to swallow your pride and accept you may not beat him clean and change it up. If you don’t, there is a good chance you’re still at center while he’s going down the floor with the ball.”
The second-round pick of the Buffalo Bandits in 2006 came into this season with a 56 percent winning percentage on draws. Earlier this season, Thorimbert gave Baptiste a battle in Philadelphia winning 11 of the 30 faceoffs in the game. When it comes to other faceoff specialists who can give him fits, Baptiste feels that Thorimbert is at the top of the list.
“(Jay) is probably the fiercest competitor on the indoor floor,” said Baptiste. “He’s somebody that I know really well. Since his game speaks for itself, he’s so tough and he really knows the box game and he makes every single faceoff a battle. You know, no matter what, it’s going to be hard win or lose. I think Jay has the most box experience from a faceoff standpoint.”
How about a couple of other opponents that Baptiste has a high regard for?
Like Joe Nardella of the Albany FireWolves…
“Joe Nardella is another great faceoff guy,” said Baptiste. “He’s extremely athletic and it’s always a battle with him at the faceoff x as well.”
Baptiste and Nardella will go at it for the first time this season on January 15th when Nardella and the FireWolves visit the Wells Fargo Center to play the Wings. Nardella plays for the Whipsnakes in the Premier Lacrosse League and certainly has had his battles with Baptiste on the field. But now, Nardella is also experiencing what it’s like to face arguably the best in the game in the NLL.
“Going against Trevor is like a ten-round boxing match,” said Nardella. “Trading blows, mixing up strategy, and trying to get an edge. It’s the game within the game and he is very good at all aspects of it. I have the utmost respect for both his character and his game at the faceoff dot.”
And then there’s rookie TD Ierlan of the Toronto Rock, drafted in the second round, 30th overall in the 2020 NLL draft.
Ierlan played at Yale before transferring to the University of Denver for his final collegiate season and was then selected 4th overall by the Redwoods in the 2021 PLL Draft. He won 65% of his draws during the 2021 PLL season and now he’s taking his talents to the NLL with the Rock in his first season.
“I know TD is playing this year,” said Baptiste during our phone conversation on December 16th. “I presume that is going to be a tough battle as well.”
And it was on December 18th when Baptiste was held to a 54% winning percentage as Ierlan won 11 of the 24 draws in Ierlan’s debut game.
While Baptiste continues to dominate at his position, he also knows that winning a faceoff is just one part of the game. The reality is that regardless of how many faceoffs a team wins in a game, it’s just one part of lacrosse as a featured box player.
You still have to play defense, get good goaltending and fire the ball into the back of the net.
“You gotta get stops,” said Baptiste. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you’re getting the ball, you’re still getting it. The idea that faceoffs tilt the game, yeah they tilt the game but so does having a great shooter and so does having a great goalie.”
Trevor Baptiste loves lacrosse. He loves everything about it and likes to dabble in aspects of the game other than faceoffs. He likes it when there are chances to stay on the floor and shoot and not just head off after taking draws.
But he also knows how good he is at faceoffs, and he knows that other teams can’t stand it.
“I obviously love them,” said Baptiste. “I think they add an extra layer of physicality and also grit to the game. Some people don’t like them because they don’t have a great faceoff guy.”
There have been some great faceoff specialists in lacrosse in recent years like Joe Nardella, Jake Withers, Geoff Snider, Bob Snider, Jeremy Thompson, Jordan MacIntosh, Tyler Burton and TD Ierlan.
But when it comes to the National Lacrosse League, Trevor Baptiste is still a king at the faceoff dot.