Gillette does little things, has big impact

Senior's work ethic puts No. 1 Terps in good stead for today's ACC title game

April 03, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - He speaks softly and carries a short stick.

Those qualities - plus his unabashed humility - have made Paul Gillette the most valuable University of Maryland lacrosse player who the fans barely know.

When the Terrapins (7-0), who are ranked No. 1 for the first time in three years, attempt to clinch the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title against No. 10 Virginia (3-4) today at Byrd Stadium, bet that the Anne Arundel County native will be doing all the unnoticed things and dirty work that are best appreciated by his coaches and teammates.

"He runs every sprint like it's his last one, does everything that is asked of him," said Maryland coach Dave Cottle. "And he does it with a smile on his face and without saying a word. He's the consummate team player who will do whatever is needed to win."

A senior and one of four captains, Gillette will never be found among the team's leading goal-scorers or the headline-makers, and he'll never receive the acclaim reserved for scoring machine Joe Walters or All-American defensemen Lee Zink and Chris Passavia.

But he may well be the backbone of the Terrapins.

"Paul has always had a huge role on this team, and now he's a leader on every part of the field," said Zink. "If he's not the best short-stick middie in the country, he's one of the best."

"I'll bet he has more second assists than anybody. In hockey, he'd get credit for them," said Cottle. "He always makes the intelligent play."

Gillette's primary position is short-stick defensive midfield, but he also runs with the four-man second midfield, occasionally getting offensive opportunities (one goal and four assists this season), and is on the field as a wing on every faceoff. He seems indefatigable.

"Jets [Gillette's nickname] doesn't ever seem to get tired," said midfielder Ian Healy. "You look up and he has eight ground balls, a couple of forced turnovers and the play that turned the game. He's probably our single most important player and commands the most respect of anyone I've ever played with."

His position is a primary target for opposing attacks, particularly since the imposing Zink, Passavia and Dave Wagner form a defensive wall behind him.

But, naturally, he deflects the credit.

"A lot of teams try to go after the short stick because those guys [defensemen] don't get challenged too much," said Gillette. "But that's fine because I know they're back there helping me out."

Wagner and Gillette grew up together, playing for a state champion and state runner-up at Severna Park High School, and have known each other since the sixth grade. They decided to attend Maryland separately, but being reunited in college was a bonus.

"He's always been Mr. Clutch, an unsung hero, even in high school," said Wagner. "He makes everyone else better around him and no one has ever said anything bad about him. He makes the right decisions on and off the field. Our moms always tell us, `Just do whatever Paul does.'

"I always say he's the fastest moving kid on the field, and the slowest off it."

Said Healy: "We've lived together three years and I think he's said 12 words."

Recruited by former coach Dick Edell, Gillette said he simply tries to do whatever he can to execute the game plan.

Of today's game, he said: "We were kind of embarrassed by Virginia [14-4 in the NCAA semifinals] and the seniors are trying to keep that in our minds. Everybody should be pumped for this game. Just the fact that it is Virginia is enough."

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