May 23, 2019 | 73° F

Senior faceoff specialist forges legacy as best faceoff man to play for Rutgers


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Photo by Michelle Klejmont |

Senior faceoff specialist Joe Nardella ranks first in the nation in wins, third in winning percentage and first in ground balls.


First he stands with his feet a little further than shoulder-width apart.

He then slides his right foot back about six inches before pulling his elbow tight to his body, squaring his stick and dropping his right knee to the ground in order to create leverage.

He focuses on a specific point –– be it a bead of field turf or a letter on the logo of the ball.

In moments, he and his opponent will collide, often knocking helmets together but undoubtedly crashing their bodies into one another with colossal force.

Whichever man has the fortitude, the determination and the agility to gain possession of the ball is declared the victor.

The referee gives him the “okay” and No. 15 in scarlet and white is shot from a cannon.

Joe Nardella is a slave to his routine and the faceoff 'X' is where the senior specialist calls home.

And with good reason.

Statistically, Nardella is the best faceoff man in the country, notching more faceoff wins (165) and groundballs (96) than any other player in Division I Lacrosse. He has won 68.2 percent of his draws, which ranks third in the nation.

But head coach Brian Brecht thinks that distinction is still too shallow for a lofty talent like his two-year captain.

“Joe (Nardella) certainly has established being one of the best faceoff guys of this era and has been for four years here,” Brecht said. "His ability to get us extra possessions allows us to play make-it, take-it lacrosse and that is why he is so vital.”

The 36th overall pick in the 2015 Major League Lacrosse Amateur Draft by the Boston Cannons, Nardella is poised to be pegged the best faceoff specialist to ever squat down for the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team.

He recalled how he received the big news.

“We were watching at one of the guys' houses and about 30 picks in people were losing interest,” Nardella said.

After several players were announced and called up to the podium to shake the hand of Commissioner David Gross, the viewing party became a little distracted. Side conversations had begun, according to Nardella, guys started telling jokes. Gone was the attentiveness of the first 10 picks where a pin drop could be heard. 

And then it happened.

“About 30 picks in people were definitely distracted.” Nardella said. “I got a text from Campbell (Sode) ‘Congrats on Beantown buddy,’ and I was like what? I was just overcome with joy and really just proud that I could be the first in my family to play professional sports."

Nardella was proud to be the first in his family to play professional sports –– proud of himself for giving that back to his parents after all the sacrifices they had made to allow him to hone his craft.

And that would be enough to cement him among the brightest stars to play on the banks — but not for Nardella. He can score, too.

What makes the Cazenovia, New York, native so different from other faceoff specialists is that he can remain on the field after the draw and contribute on both offense and defense.

He has scored three goals and assisted on nine others in the 2015 campaign, the first in the history of Big Ten lacrosse.

This faceoff casanova from Cazenovia has a rare ability to coax his opponents into a false sense of security at the ‘X,' especially after they win the initial clamp.

But when the ball is loose, Nardella is a bulldog.

“He can win the clamp,” said junior attacker Scott Bieda. "But what makes him so good is even if he loses the clamp, he is so good at groundballs and wants it more than that guy next to him. Being able to get the ball after he loses is what makes him the best in the country in my mind."

The future Cannon gave a glimpse into his mindset after he loses the initial draw.

“I’m thinking, 'I gotta get the hell off my knee right now,'” Nardella said with a chuckle, “I’ve gotta find where the ball is, but the second thing, I need to do anything I can to be disruptive. I think it’s because I can play in situations where, even when I lose, I have the ability to be disruptive and get the ball back.”

Senior midfielder Brian Goss has had the pleasure of playing four seasons with Nardella and it is evident to him that his fellow senior is something special.

"A lot of face off guys in the country get their teams possessions like he does, but not a lot of them make the plays afterward that he does," Goss said.

But off the field, Nardella is as loose as the groundballs he scoops.

“He’s a big softy,” Goss said of Nardella, "on the field he's like a lethal assassin, but off the field he's a big goofball and he's probably the biggest prankster on the team."

Bieda and Goss recounted an instance where Nardella ziptied a teammates equipment to his stick moments before practice began. “Coach is telling us to get out on the field and what was the kid gonna say, ‘Captain Joe Nardella ziptied my equipment?’” Bieda said.

Nardella admitted he likes to keep everyone loose, but was unwilling to do the full bid for the ziptie incident.

“I don’t know if that was me or only me, but it sounds like those guys are throwing me under the bus a bit. But I do think it’s important to keep it light, especially with such a young team,” Nardella said.

Putting pranks aside, Nardella is a special talent that evokes excitement about the program and the steps taken during his time on the banks with Brecht.

As for his legacy, Nardella never hesitated.

“I want people to remember me as the best faceoff guy to ever come through Rutgers,” he said.

For updates on the Rutgers men's lacrosse team, follow @KevinPxavier and @TargumSports on Twitter.


Kevin Xavier

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