The first thing you notice about the Forest Park defensemen is their size.
Not the traditional high school lacrosse size of 180-pound "big guys." We're talking so-wide-you-can't-run-around-me, just-try-to-run-through-me size.
There on the back line for the 11-0, MSA C Conference-leading Foresters stand juniors Lonnie Smith (6 feet 1, 270 pounds), Eric Conaway (6-2, 340) and comparatively tiny Raynard Bankins (5-8, 200). Pity the opponents who, like a couple of Northern attackers in Friday's 11-2 Forest Park win, run into this wall only to (oof!) bounce in reverse onto their backs.
"We really stress the footwork," said Forest Park coach Obie Barnes. "They're already massive and hard to shoot around, so if we can get them to mirror the attackmen they're playing . . ." Barnes didn't need to finish the sentence.
But these guys aren't solely responsible for the Foresters allowing only 21 goals all season. Behind them is senior goalkeeper Sean Green (6-1, 178) who, as a three-year starter at middle linebacker, has spent ample time looking at their backsides on the football field, too.
He's a natural lefthander who plays mostly with his right hand in lacrosse. "Other players get confused when they see me switch hands on the stick," said Green, who has three shutouts this season. "They don't know how to play me."
The Foresters' offense has had no such problems, scoring 118 goals. And it has been balanced, with five players -- Obie Barnes Jr. (first, 26 goals, 20 assists), Dwoyne Jones (fourth, 18, 16), Brian Bailey (tie for fifth, 25, seven), Rodney Foster (seventh, 22, seven) and James Heath (eighth, 15, 10) -- among the top eight C Conference scorers.
What makes the Foresters so overpowering? "We rely on stickwork, finesse, moving the ball to the open man," said Barnes. "In every game this year we've scored on set plays."
Which is surprising for a team as young as Forest Park, with only five seniors on its 24-man squad. And, like most city public schools in recent years, it has not had players enter the program with lacrosse skills gained from school or youth leagues. But the fledgling middle school programs in the city are starting to pay off for Barnes.
"Last year we had only one player from a middle school program," Barnes said. "This year I have nine freshman from middle school programs with lacrosse experience. One is starting and two or three see considerable time."
The Foresters may be young, but the seniors don't throw their weight around. "We've got a lot of young kids from the middle schools," said Green, whom Barnes believes is capable of playing Division I lacrosse. "They've produced a lot. Just before the season started the veterans got together and tried to figure out how to teach them. But they came out and showed us a lot of things. They had more hustle and desire to play than we did. It was a big surprise and a big help."
Another big help has been Chuck Waesche, a former basketball and lacrosse coach at the school, now retired, who is voluntarily helping out this year. It's the first time Barnes has had assistance with the lacrosse team and it means that more teaching can be done with the youngsters.
One of them, Heath, 15, was constantly getting into trouble as a seventh-grader at Pimlico Junior High when the principal suggested he try lacrosse. "It was fun," Heath said. "I really started liking it."
Now the 6-foot, 165-pound freshman is displaying not just his skills, but an inordinate amount of confidence. "He thinks he's a senior," Barnes said.
He'll only be a sophomore next year when Forest Park, 23-1 over the past two years, steps up in class. Heath isn't intimidated. "Next year we're moving up to B Conference," he said. "I expect us to compete with Park and Poly and those schools."