Alone at a dead-end street in Timonium, 4-year-old Greg Patchak picked up his two-wheel bike for the first time while his father went inside to take an hourlong phone call.
On one try, Patchak lost his balance and scuffed up his elbows. The next attempt, he toppled over again and grazed his knees.
Another try another fall. And when his father returned, he cringed at the bloody arms and legs before staring in amazement as his son successfully rode the bike all by himself.
"I remember he still had a big smile," Patchak's father, Richard, said. "He was just happy he accomplished it. That's his attitude."
Patchak, now a sophomore attackman at Duke, brings that same relentless demeanor as the leading scorer of the No. 2 Blue Devils, who play at No. 6 Maryland today at 1 p.m.
A midfielder last season, Patchak inherits the starting attack slot left by John Fay, Duke's second all-time goal scorer. But don't expect Patchak to emulate Fay's more finesse shooting style.
Patchak relies on power, creating his shots off fierce dodges. The Boys' Latin School's all-time leading scorer bulked up his 6-foot frame to 210 pounds since last season and became Duke's most improved player in fall practice.
His approach might incur some bumps and bruises, but it completes the job.
"You won't even recognize him now," Blue Devils coach Mike Pressler said. "He's 20 pounds heavier and better. He came to us a big, strong kid, but he is that much more confident. When he came back to school in the fall, I eyeballed him and knew he was in razor-sharp shape."
That precision has translated in this year's first two games, where Patchak has muscled in eight of 13 shots and is five goals shy of last season's goal output.
He'll continually bang defenders, wearing them down to create high-percentage chances. He'll bull past defensemen, drawing a slide before setting up the open Blue Devil.
Or he'll scrap and fight for a loose ball to keep a possession alive. Patchak already has triple the amount of ground balls of any other Duke attackman -- and the aches and pains that come with such encounters.
"I tell you what, our offense has picked up a beat since Greg has been there," midfielder Scott Diggs said. "He stepped it up from Day One."
And you can't cheat against Patchak, a right-hander in everyday life but a natural left-handed lacrosse player. Force him to his right side 10 yards out, and he'll drop his stick to create a better angle and fling the ball into the corner of the net.
"He finds the back of the net," attackman Jared Frood said. "Sometimes, I don't know how he does it."
But last season, Patchak was more of a mystery off the field. More quiet and introverted than the other freshmen, he never really opened up to Pressler.
That changed when Patchak moved back to his accustomed attack slot this year, regaining the same intensity and enthusiasm he displayed in high school.
"Instead of going to practice after classes thinking I'm tired, I was like, `Geez, I'm having so much fun back at my old position,' " said Patchak, who made the Atlantic Coast Conference honor role as a freshman. "It was instinctive.
"I'm a lot more confident and comfortable this season. I rolled with the punches last year and just stuck with it. Now, I have found my niche and role with the team."
Yet his parents realized his talent when Patchak was only a toddler.
He walked by 8 months. He could dribble a basketball by 10 months. And at 16 months, Patchak would stand at the sliding glass doors, crying as he watched his 8-year-old brother, Richard, play lacrosse with friends in the backyard.
Once again, Patchak's persistence paid off.
Said Patchak's mother, Rosanne: "I told my husband, `I can't take this every day. You have to go and buy him a lacrosse stick.' "
Pub Date: 3/07/99