Blue blood

Paul Rabil's family is entwined with UNC, but the midfielder is glad he chose Hopkins

College lacrosse

May 19, 2007|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun reporter

For weeks, Paul Rabil had done so much to light the way for the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team, especially when it came time for the junior midfielder to finish off an opponent with the ball in his stick.

But at this moment, after the Blue Jays had meandered through the first half and held a modest 5-3 halftime lead over an inferior and inspired Mount St. Mary's team, the Blue Jays' best player decided that leading merely by example would not do.

So after coach Dave Pietramala voiced his dissatisfaction, Rabil stepped into the halftime huddle, spoke up in loud, angry terms and challenged Hopkins to stop dragging its feet and start acting like Hopkins.

Looking back on that 15-3 victory on April 30 - it followed a grinding 9-7 win two days earlier at Towson and coincided with the start of final exams - it was no shock the Blue Jays overwhelmed the Mount. But the memory of Rabil asserting himself by tearing into his tired teammates resonates as Hopkins heads into today's NCAA tournament quarterfinal against Georgetown at Princeton.

"That's the first time I've heard Paul lay into us. He's usually the quiet, confident leader," freshman midfielder Michael Kimmel said. "We were flat. We had no energy. He got us going. Whenever he talks, people definitely listen."

Added Pietramala: "Paul unloaded, and it was the appropriate words from the appropriate guy."

Although he is uncomfortable with such labels, there is no question that, as he barrels toward the finish of his third remarkably productive year, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Rabil has emerged as The Man at Homewood.

The size, speed and stick skills he brought from DeMatha have always been evident. Before Rabil had played his first college game, then-senior Blue Jays superstar midfielder Kyle Harrison predicted Rabil would go down as the greatest ever to play the position for Hopkins.

He is on his way to fulfilling Harrison's prophecy. Through 44 career games, Rabil has 73 goals and 45 assists. Former four-time first-team All-American Del Dressel (1983-1986) is the only Hopkins midfielder with a more impressive pace.

And one year after leading Hopkins in scoring and earning first-team All-America honors as a sophomore, Rabil has erased a slow start with some torrid scoring, despite encountering endless defensive slides as the unquestioned focal point of the offense.

His work in the clutch this spring speaks of the cool operator Rabil has been from the beginning. As a rookie in his fourth game, he came off the bench to join the first midfield with Hopkins in a 7-1 hole at Syracuse. All Rabil did was score three quick goals, finish with four and spark the Blue Jays to a 12-11 overtime stunner.

Extra special

This year, Rabil became the first player in school history to decide two overtime victories in the same season by making game-winning shots against Princeton and Maryland. He also has taken down Navy and Loyola with scoring binges in the second half.

"You get that adrenaline rush, that extra bit of energy [with the game on the line]," said Rabil, who has 14 goals and 11 assists during Hopkins' current six-game winning streak. "What it comes down to is, we need a goal, and if I can get a step on my man and I have a lane, I'm going to take the shot.

"I guess you mature and learn to handle those situations and thrive on them. It doesn't matter to me who scores, as long as somebody does and we win."

And to think Rabil nearly ended up wearing a different color of blue.

Had he gone the route of his father, Allan - not to mention 16 other members of his family - Paul would have attended North Carolina. Michael Jordan is still his favorite athlete. Tar Heels basketball coaching legend Dean Smith remains an idol in the Rabils' Gaithersburg household.

But after Paul's older brother, Michael, broke the mold by choosing to go Ivy League and playing defensive tackle at Dartmouth, Paul decided to give Hopkins a hard look when Pietramala went after him full bore.

"Talk about fighting an uphill battle," Pietramala said. "Paul didn't seem that interested in us. We thought his dream was to go to Chapel Hill. But we also found out that Paul was a great listener."

While leading DeMatha to three league championships and a four-year record of 49-16, and scoring 153 points over his last two years, Rabil was eyeing Hopkins. He said he watched tapes of Dressel, former star midfielder A.J. Haugen, even Harrison. Then came his recruiting visit and a passionate pitch by Harrison.

"We left the choice rightfully up to Paul," Allan Rabil said. "He was looking for a very competitive, want-to-win program. Carolina was trying to rebuild. He loved the fact that at Hopkins, they bled lacrosse."

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