When Kyle Craig showed up to his first Team 91 tryout, the then-fifth grader was trying to leave an impression by filling up the back of the net.
The then-attackman was talented enough to make the team, but as the year went on, he found himself continuously moving further away from the opponent's net and closer to his.
"They just kept me moving back more and more, and finally, I played longstick for a game," Craig said. "I absolutely loved it, and ever since then, I've been playing defense."
The move paid major dividends for the Wantagh senior and 91 2019 White defenseman. As his 91 career went on, he continued to develop and found himself more comfortable on the defensive end of things, and as it turns out, it's where he'll play his college lacrosse. Craig recently verballed to Division III power Franklin & Marshall (Pa.), where he plans to study business and accounting.
"It's really nice there, and academically, it's a great school, which is what I was focusing on," Craig said. "I was trying to get a good fit for both academics and lacrosse, and F&M is great for both. The recruitment kind of moved quickly. (91 White) Coach (Brian) O'Keefe sent them an email with my new highlight reel, they shot me a text before the NLF club national championships, they came and watched me play, and I went for a visit two weeks later. I kind of knew right away that it was the place for me from the moment I stepped on campus. The school was beautiful, the dorms were gorgeous, and once they took me to the stadium, I just knew."
It was an unorthodox, twisted road for Craig to become a high-level Division III defenseman. Of course, it took him a while to realize that he was a defenseman, but later on, he hit a major snag when he suffered an elbow injury during his sophomore year football campaign. He tore the UCL and missed nine months, and that summer, he only played in two tournaments. Slowly, he came back and attended a few prospect days, but not much college interest materalized itself. Last spring, though, he knew he was rounding back into form.
"This spring season, I started feeling like myself again, and I had a pretty good high school season," Craig said. "I really got into lifting once I got injured, so I was lifting a lot, and it was just a question of getting back healthy and back to my old self."
His old - and new, for that matter - self is a smart cover defenseman who trusts his positioning, anticipation and instincts to blanket his opponents. He'll usually slide down behind the net to cover the opponent's X attackman, and that's where he feels the most at home.
"I like being able to see the whole field and be the field general when I'm down low," Craig said. "I like to make sure everyone's in the right spots, including myself. It's fun. I still score some goals and I had a couple this summer. Sometimes, I wish I still played attack, but I like stopping people."
“Kyle had an excellent spring and followed it up with a phenomenal summer for us," O'Keefe said. "He kind of flew under the radar for a lot of schools, but he was as good as anyone this summer, and he gave a lot of attackmen some serious problems. He’s been with 91 for a long time, and it’s been a pleasure to see him rise through the ranks and emerge as a top defenseman. We’re excited that he found such a great fit for him, both on and off the field, and we know that he’ll do big things there.”
Craig's evolution into one of Long Island's best-kept secrets was a result of his hard work and the coaching that he got with both 91 and Wantagh. Specifically, he saw major jumps in his play with the 91 winter training, where he learned from Major League Lacrosse standouts Brian Spallina and Nicky Polanco. At Wantagh, he was entrusted with a lot of responsibilities, and emerged as a shutdown guy. Ultimately, it also helped that he was firm in his belief that he'd find a collegiate home later in the process as many of his 2019 cohorts were flying off the board early.
"The winter training definitely helped a lot, because I was learning from those amazing coaches," Craig said. "For Wantagh, Coach (John) Cuiffo, Coach Lago and Coach Polo all helped me a lot. Coach Cuiffo called me up for playoffs in my freshman year, and he always checked in with me when I was hurt. He called and left me a voicemail right after my surgery. I also knew I could be patient because I knew my abilities and I had faith in myself. I knew I'd find the right spot eventually, and I had to adapt to where I ended up playing."
He had a good reason to be so confident, and betting on himself paid off.