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Stories/Op-Ed

This is Me – Bill O’Brien

Bill O’Brien, The Enforcer, Thrilla, #96, Goon, Big Defender with a braid – just a few of things I’ve been called throughout my NLL career that spanned 3 seasons from New England with the Black Wolves and one season in Banditland for the Buffalo Bandits. Since playing for the Buffalo Bandits in 2018, I’ve been a free agent in the NLL, won a championship with the St. Catharine’s Shockwave in the Arena Lacrosse League, and I play each summer for my home team, the Onondaga Redhawks.

Now we can add, NLL Contributing Writer.

There’s always more to someone than meets the eye. My family on my father’s side is Onondaga, my mother’s side is primarily Irish. I’m fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to learn the history and heritage of Lacrosse in Onondaga by playing for the Redhawks, and through my teammates, friends, coaches, and elders.

Through Lacrosse, I’ve experienced some of my greatest adversity, alongside some of my best accomplishments.

I was not always a Lacrosse player. I’ve been a competitor my whole life, starting at the ripe age of 3 with Ice Hockey. Sport has always been an outlet for me to express myself, compete and try to outwork those around me – it provided purpose. In high school, I was a three-sport athlete playing football, ice hockey, and lacrosse.

Competition excited me. When I was offered a scholarship to play college football at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT, I was thrilled. At Sacred Heart University, I received degrees in Business Administration and Marketing, while being named Captain of the football team my Junior and Senior year, and an all-conference defensive end. Football was my focus. I never thought I would soon become a professional lacrosse player.

I strived to be the best football player I could be, with my eyes set on making an NFL roster. After my college career, I trained with some incredible athletes, even living and training with the Buffalo Bills during the 2011 lockout.

Fast forward 3 years to 2014 and I won the Sr. B President’s cup with Onondaga Redhawks, co-founded and managed a lacrosse brand partnered with Nike, and received a call from Canadian Lacrosse legend Mike French to try out for his New England Black Wolves.

Mike French’s call started me on my NLL journey. I vividly remember receiving the call in my parent’s kitchen. After brief introductions, Mike mentioned he was building a new franchise and needed a ‘tough defender’. Mike thought I fit the mold and asked me to come to the free-agent tryout. I made the team, thus beginning my career as a professional lacrosse player.

Photo by Rob Marczynski

If you look up my stats on NLL.com, you may notice I was not the goal-scoring machine. Rather I played the role I was hired to play, the role of a hard-nosed defender. The fans in New England loved the physical nature of my gameplay, opposing fans often did not. I’m often reminded that the NLL record I own is the most Penalty Minutes by a Rookie.

Lacrosse is the oldest game in North America, yet our professional box league is so young. Having had the opportunity to be a part of building a new franchise in New England was something special. Box Lacrosse is arguably the best spectator sport on planet earth. Each night new fans watch the fastest sport on two feet. First-time spectators are often in awe of the physicality and finesse and sharing in those first experiences is certainly special. First-time fans became season ticket holders, who then became friends.

After my time in New England was up, I was traded to one of the most established franchises in the NLL, the Buffalo Bandits, an organization with a reputation. The experience was much different than New England; their fan base was k long-standing, and the organization ran like a well-oiled machine. When you step on the floor in Banditland, it’s always better to be wearing orange and black.

3 years later and I’m seeing that life has an interesting way of taking twists and turns, leading you down paths you may never have thought you would walk.

Contributing Writer for the National Lacrosse League is the newest endeavor I’m undertaking. I’m excited to provide a players’ perspective and written word to the stories surrounding the NLL. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the heritage and history of the game firsthand – living, working, and playing with some of the world’s best lacrosse players. As our game grows and the NLL expands to the lone star state with Panther City Lacrosse club and beyond – I’ll be a resource for both the avid fan or those new to the game.

NLL