Win the clamp, scoop up the ground ball, safely get it to an attackman, sprint back to the box. Breathe.
Those were once the main responsibilities of a faceoff athlete – or a faceoff, get off athlete (FOGO) – as it was appropriately named. But the days of the FOGO are dwindling. As only eight starting spots at the stripe exist professionally in outdoor lacrosse, more skill became required from these athletes over time, especially this PLL season.
“I’ve always hated the term FOGO because it’s so old school. We used to call guys FOGOs when they literally couldn’t catch and throw and all they could do is sit on a knee and clamp,” former Redwoods faceoff athlete and seven-time All-Star Greg Gurenlian said.
With the Premier Lacrosse League’s new 32-second shot clock rule, the term “FOGO” may never be used again.
Before the 2023 season, the PLL changed the shot clock following a won faceoff from 52 seconds to 32 seconds. The 52-second shot clock is still in effect, but begins after the first 32 seconds of play when a defense forces a turnover or shot-clock violation. With the new rule, faceoff athletes find themselves playing offense and defense as the 32 seconds wane and there’s not enough time to sub off, essentially killing the notion of the FOGO.
Trevor Baptiste, Atlas’ faceoff athlete and the 2022 MVP, stayed on the field for minutes at a time through the first three weeks of the 2023 season, but he felt the effects of the new rule immediately.
“There was one stretch in the second quarter [against the Redwoods in Week 1] where we were on the field for like three minutes straight. It was back and forth, up and down. Faceoff, then into another faceoff. It’s a lot,” Baptiste said. “I was definitely tired in that moment. Sometimes you just don’t have enough time to sub and you still have to get something out of that possession.”
It’s a balancing act. Sub out too soon, stay in too long or don’t do your part on defense? Then you’re “a liability,” Gurenlian said. Become that, and you’re “one or two bad games away from never playing again.”
This is the pros, after all.
With only eight teams in the PLL, everything is matchup based. When Gurenlian was playing against a more athletic faceoff opponent, he would make sure to closely guard his guy and not just run off the field and leave his matchup open with an opportunity to score. If he went against a bigger, less mobile opponent, he thought the opposite.
“If I win, I need to keep this guy out here as long as I can and get him caught up on defense because then he’s a liability,” Gurenlian said. “For Trevor, how he plays against TD Ierlan (Redwoods) or Petey LaSalla (Whipsnakes) is going to be way different than how he plays against Connor Farrell (Chrome).”
The faceoff position requires more speed, smarts and power than it did a year ago, when faceoff athletes had more time and less pressure to make a play.
Luckily for Atlas, it has Baptiste, who is 65-87 (74.4 percent) and grabbed 38 ground balls – leading the league in both – this season. Because of that, Atlas coach Mike Pressler said he puts short sticks on the wings, anticipating setting up the offense and knowing “Trevor’s going to win a majority of faceoffs and if we lose it, we can still get our LSM on the field.”
But with the new rule, which Pressler said so far, he isn’t a fan of, tons of questions follow even with a wunderkind like Baptiste.
“If you’re going to leave him out there after every faceoff win, that doesn’t mean you score,” Pressler said. “If you turn it over or a goalie makes a save, what does he do? Does he run in the hole and play defense, does he run off for substitution? You’re asking so much more of your single faceoff guy that you’re carrying on your roster. We’re not even in July yet, and in some of these places it’s going to be super hot and super humid.”
Gurenlian, however, “loves” the rule because it “will incentivize kids to continue to work on the rest of their game,” he said. While not any position player can step up to the faceoff, the faceoff athlete will have to slot into offense or defense, and play well while doing it.
Remember, “you can’t be a liability.”
So, where does that leave the FOGO?
“You want to get the guy who’s the best at getting you the ball,” Gurenlian said. “But if you have the choice between him and a guy who can get the ball and do other things, that guy is going to be more attractive from a draft or signing standpoint.”