Keenan of Boys’ Latin one of nation’s best faceoff specialists

Senior midfielder has won 78 percent of draws he has taken this season

April 29, 2010|By Glenn Graham, The Baltimore Sun

R.G. Keenan was 12 when his father bought him his own set of tools for his birthday.

Soon after, the younger Keenan spent a day in the family's garage, intuitively taking apart his bike. By the end of the night, he had it completely back together, also making sure all the tools he used were returned to their exact spots in his new toolbox.

"R.G. has always been the type of kid that had to figure out how things worked," said his father, Bob. "He's always had the determination to get things right — he gets to be like a perfectionist in that way."

On the lacrosse field at Boys' Latin, Keenan, a senior midfielder and captain, has taken the same efficient approach to become one of the finest high school faceoff specialists in the country. In helping the No. 1 Lakers to an 11-3 mark, the North Carolina-bound Keenan has dominated one of the game's most important areas by winning 78 percent (191 of 244) of the faceoffs he has taken this season.

The craft takes precise technique, a combination of quickness and strength, and dogged determination. Sturdy and agile at 5 feet 11 and 205 pounds, Keenan has developed all those traits in his three years on varsity.

Alex Smith, a 2003 Boys' Latin graduate who went on to become an NCAA record-breaking faceoff specialist at Delaware, has worked closely with Keenan during his high school years and is impressed with his protege's rapid progress. Last year, Keenan won a little more than 60 percent of the 300-plus faceoffs he took to earn second-team All-Metro honors.

"It's one of those things where you need to have a strong passion for it, and R.G. really does," said Smith, who won an NCAA-record 1,027 faceoffs in his four-year career at Delaware. "He pays close attention to the details in regards to technique, works very hard at it and is a very athletic and tough kid."

As a freshman on junior varsity, Keenan handled faceoffs and also played on the first midfield line. He came to realize that his strength was winning draws, so "I figured it's better to try to be great at one thing than mediocre in both," he said.

With that in mind, he has taken what he estimates at 15,000 faceoffs since his freshman year in games, practices and attending the numerous faceoff camps that Smith conducts throughout the summer months.

Keenan's contribution to the Lakers comes in the middle of the field — a one-on-one battle that Boys' Latin coach Bob Shriver compares to the first period of a wrestling match.

Mostly using the "pinch and pop" technique developed and perfected by Smith, Keenan often wins faceoffs cleanly, but other times, he has to scrum with an opponent for up to 50 seconds. Taking up to 30faceoffs per game adds up to a day that is demanding and productive.

The Lakers, who are 7-2 in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, have the area's most potent attack in Patrick Foster, Wells Stanwick and Kevin O'Neil.

But to succeed, the trio has to have the ball first. That's where Keenan comes in.

"Winning draws is so important because I know if I can get the ball to them, we're going to score," Keenan said. "That's just the way it is. Nobody can cover Foster, nobody can cover Wells and nobody can cover Kevin. So when you have those guys up there, you have to get them the ball."

Earlier this month, Keenan won all 11faceoffs he took in a comfortable win over Severn. He then came back three days later to take 24 of 26 in a 15-10 victory over defending MIAA A Conference champion Gilman. Keenan saw it as 22 more chances Foster, Stanwick and O'Neil had to score in the key win over the Greyhounds.

"He's got an exceptional combination of abilities to win the draw and then be able to do what he wants with it. Physically earning possession for his team constantly gives them confidence," Gilman coach Brooks Matthews said.

Shriver has had a firsthand look all season.

With Keenan's consistent success winning faceoffs, the Lakers coach said, opponents have rarely been able to string together goals, and he's seeing his entire team playing relaxed and confident, knowing chances to score will be readily available.

"R.G. is one of the biggest parts to our success," senior midfielder and fellow captain Ryan Rubenstein said. "When you have a guy that wins that many faceoffs, you're comfortable knowing that even if the other team scored, we know we're going to get the ball right back and have a chance to score right back."

Many experts in lacrosse circles regard Keenan, who maintains a 3.0 grade-point average, as the top faceoff specialist in high school this season. He has seen some reports and heard the positive words, but doesn't get into all the hype.

Smith is quick to concur with the hype.

"I've seen him at camps beat on D-I college players consistently and even beat up on guys from the pro league, and he's a high school kid. If he continues to work very hard, he's got a chance to be one of the top guys in the NCAA next year. I know that's saying a lot, but I believe it," he said.

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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