Patrick Foley can still remember some of the less flattering feedback he received when he made it clear he would pursue a lacrosse career.
A 175-pound defenseman isn’t going to start at the college level. It definitely wasn’t enough for a good Division I team. Maybe he could make an impact as a long stick midfielder, but surely not on close defense.
“That definitely got to my head,” Foley said. “That’s definitely a huge focal point for this summer, to change that. I don’t want to give up any speed. I think that’s an important part and unique side to me. But with this aggressive attitude I can have, I definitely want some weight to throw around with that, too.”
At 6 feet and 175 pounds, Foley doesn’t fit the stereotype as a bruiser. But he’s the first freshman to regularly start on close defense for Johns Hopkins since Tucker Durkin (an eventual two-time Schmeisser Award winner) in 2010, and he’ll play for the United States’ under-19 national team in this summer’s world championships in Canada.
Not bad for a guy who didn’t pick up a stick until the summer before his freshman year of high school and wasn’t even on Johns Hopkins’ radar until assistant coach Bill Dwan was impressed with his footwork at a camp the summer before his senior year. Now, he’s an indispensable part of the Blue Jays’ defense and quickly gaining ground as he learns more about the game.
“He grows every week,” Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. “He’s not overwhelmed by the moment.”
It arrived quickly. Foley made his high school freshman team just months after trying the sport and moved from midfield to close defense in the middle of that first season. As a late bloomer, it appeared he would likely take a postgraduate year and reclassify as a member of the class of 2016.
That changed in the summer of 2014 when he got a call from one of his coaches at 3d Lacrosse.
“He tells me Johns Hopkins had just called and was interested in looking at me,” Foley said. “I lost my mind. It was as a 2015, too. That was, in my opinion, the best combination of academics and the way I learn and lacrosse. When that call came, I was ecstatic. My mind was made up for the most part.”
Things got even better once he visited campus for a game last spring and got to know two-time Johns Hopkins captain Michael Pellegrino. The two share some characteristics — blue-collar background, a bit undersized, ferocious competitors — and Foley found the long pole to be a source of excellent insight.
For his part, Pellegrino walked away from his first extended conversation with Foley convinced the Winchester, Mass., native would thrive at Homewood.
“You can just tell when someone has an edge and they have what it takes,” Pellegrino said. “It’s not really defined. You just know it. The kid is ready to go and ready to fight and anything you give him, he’s going to take it and he’s going to run with it.”
Foley’s done so throughout his freshman year. There were some learning experiences early, particularly in a loss to North Carolina, but a month later he was playing on the faceoff wings and scoring a goal at Virginia. Later, he held slick Penn State attackman Grant Ament to two assists.
“He’s got a little grit to him,” Pietramala said. “He’s not a big guy. He’s got a little chip on his shoulder and plays that way. He’s not big enough to be super-physical, but he has a little nasty streak to him.”
It’s served him well at Johns Hopkins, and figures to do so again this summer for the U.S. U19 team. His attitude, combined with a year of high-level college experience, will be a significant asset for the American defense.
“It’s such an honor to be part of that USA U19 lacrosse team, especially from where I started,” Foley said. “It was a long process and there were points I thought I did not play up to par and my spot was challenged. Overall, when I got the final phone call from [coach] Nick Myers saying that they’re welcoming to the team and they’re excited to have me play and represent the country — like, the country, wow — I was at a loss for words.”
The same might be true of those who told Foley he had little chance to earn playing time at close defense for prominent Division I program. He finds himself understanding the game better by the week and getting exponentially better.
It’s fair to wonder just what Foley’s ceiling is, though he’s far more concerned about the here and now.
“I have to take advantage of what’s in front of me first,” Foley said. “The fun part is that you don’t know what’s expected. Things are going to pop up that I’ve never heard of before. It’s going to be a cool experience and a cool ride to be on, but none of it comes without working hard and getting better every day.”