John Nostrant weighs maybe 160, without his lacrosse stick. But when he's on the same line with Rick Sowell, he feels like he weighs 220, with muscles.
Nostrant and Sowell have played together for years. They were first joined at Washington College in the mid-1980s, where they ran on the same midfield for two years, then for three years with Clyde's in club lacrosse.
They are together still, currently in their third year as linemates on the Baltimore Thunder in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League.
"Rick is always there for me," Nostrant said. "I've got a big mouth, and sometimes get opposing players mad at me, but I feel like I play at 220 when Rick is backing me up."
It works both ways. This August, Sowell will back up Nostrant as a member of his wedding party. When Nostrant's father died last October, Sowell, his car unfit for the drive to Syracuse for the funeral, took a plane even though his financial position suggested he couldn't afford it.
"He was close to Dad," Nostrant said. "Dad used to get on his tail about getting his thesis done at Washington College."
Sowell is the only black in the six-team MILL, but in four years in the league he has never heard a racial insult.
"No name-calling or any other racial problem," Sowell said.
"I never heard anything," said Thunder coach John Stewart. "Rick is liked throughout the league."
Sowell is in his customary position near the top of the league scoring race. With two games left this season, he has 34 points (14 and 20), trailing only Paul and Gary Gait of the Detroit Turbos. Sowell contributed two goals and two assists to the Thunder's 14-12 win over the Pittsburgh Bulls Saturday that kept Baltimore atop the MILL's American Division with a 5-3 record.
In 1989, his first year with the Thunder and second in the league (he was a rookie with the now-defunct Washington Wave in 1988), Sowell led the team in scoring with 26 points (12 goals and 14 assists). Last winter he rang up 31 points (16 and 15) to finish runner-up in the MILL to the Turbos' Terry Martinello.
"Rick's main attribute is his unselfishness," Stewart said as he prepared the Thunder for its next game, March 17 against the Philadelphia Wings. "When he draws two or three people to him, he's good at finding the open man and is willing to dish off."
Sowell is from Horseheads, which is near Ithaca, which is in south central New York. He came late to lacrosse, fancying himself a quarterback until he reached 10th grade. His football coach, Tom Moffitt, also coached lacrosse.
"He convinced me I'd go further in lacrosse than football," Sowell said. "It took him all winter to talk me into it. He said I could hit people, but I saw that wooden handle and said, 'No way.' I wasn't too psyched to try it."
Sowell progressed quickly in his new sport, attracting the attention not only of Moffitt but of Washington College coach Terry Corcoran, as well. Corcoran and Moffitt are both Hobart graduates.
At Washington College, Sowell was acclaimed Division III midfielder of the year as a senior in 1985. That season, the Shoremen handed Hobart its first loss in 44 games against Division III opponents, as Sowell scored five goals in an 8-7 victory.
In the years since, Sowell has been a Washington College assistant, the head coach at St. Alban's School in D.C. and, currently, assistant to Dave Urick, the former Hobart coach who's now at Georgetown.
At 28, Sowell and Jim Huelskamp are the Thunder's oldest players, and Sowell, Huelskamp and Nostrant are the team's captains. Sowell, as a fourth-year player in the MILL, earns $250 a game.
"Rick is a quiet player, a little moody but a good guy," Thunder general manager Darrell Russell said. "He leads by example."
A year ago, Sowell was crunched between two members of the Philadelphia Wings and suffered a cracked bone in his back. Russell thought Sowell was finished for the year.
Attired in a corset and in obvious pain, Sowell played the rest of the season.