The 2010 season of the National Lacrosse League, the professional indoor lacrosse league, kicks off Friday as the Philadelphia Wings, one of the most successful storied teams in the 24-year-old league, takes on the Orlando Titans, playing in it’s Florida home after three seasons in New York City.
One of the most notable players of the Wings is defensive player Kyle Sweeney. For Sweeney, like other NLL stars, playing pro lacrosse is his “weekend job” so his concerns are not only about being the best lacrosse player he can be, but also making a living and making a life.
The following is an exclusive book excerpt from the book WEEKEND WARRIORS, THE MEN OF PROFESSIONAL LACROSSE ($9.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com) that outlines the life and times of Sweeney. The book, published in 2007, is the first book published about professional lacrosse.
Kyle Sweeney is an average New York young entrepreneur, the kind of guy you’d bump into online buying bagels. He’s also a star professional athlete—not one of the gossip column regulars who hangs out in trendy nightclubs with rock stars.
Sweeney, at 6’2″, 190 pounds, is one of the best defensemen in both National League Lacrosse and Major League Lacrosse, a star with both the NLL Philadelphia Wings and the MLL Philadelphia Barrage.
Sweeney’s company, in partnership with two other lacrosse players, Jay Jalbert and Blake Miller, is Maverik Lacrosse, a lacrosse clothing and equipment company.
“We are a typical start-up company. We have no IT department. In fact, I am the IT department.” Sweeney handles accounting, computer programming and logistics, as well as visiting the over sixty retail stores that sell the Maverik line.
“The stores are mostly specialty lacrosse businesses,” Sweeney says, “and they like to meet us. I enjoy getting out and meeting people, too. It beats staying behind a desk all day.”
Sweeney’s life in lacrosse began in middle school, in Springfield, Pa. He was looking for something to play other than basketball or football. His father had been a college football player at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and was eager to see Kyle follow in his footsteps; he encouraged Kyle to play lacrosse, thinking of it as a good springtime complement to fall football. Not that Kyle needed his father’s lead: his older brother, Brett, already played the game.
“I owe my success to Brett,” Sweeney says. “We used to work out in the yard one-on-one. He was the one that got me more committed to the sport, made me quicker, more competitive.”
Lacrosse became a Sweeney family tradition. Although not turning pro, Brett eventually played varsity lacrosse at Western Maryland College, and younger sister Kerin played on the varsity for Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
As an American in what has historically been a Canadian sport, Sweeney played defense with the “long-pole” in the outdoor high school lacrosse leagues in Springfield.
“Most long-poles don’t usually score or help with the offense,” he says. “In Springfield, our school was different, which raised a few eyebrows.”
In high school, Sweeney did everything with the long-stick. He played long-stick middie (mid-field), took face-offs, played on the man-up squad (power play), and played on the mandown squad.
Not only was Sweeney successful, he became one of the hottest college prospects, as he was named a high school All-American and was called one of the nation’s top three longpoles coming out of high school. Soon after the high school championships, the college recruiters came calling with lacrosse scholarships. Sweeney was invited on recruiting trips to perennial college powers such as North Carolina, Virginia and
Maryland, but decided on Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
“I had grown up being a huge Philadelphia Wings fan,” he says. “I never thought I could play at that level. I wasn’t even sure I could play at the college level. So when it came time to choose a college, I chose Georgetown for the academics.”
Well, not entirely. He says that Washington, D.C. was a “cool” city, and his coach, Dave Urick, who heads up the Hoya program was an “awesome” coach.
In high school, Sweeney had worn No. 4 as his jersey number, but when he arrived as a freshman on the Hoya team, that number had already been claimed. “I decided to choose No. 7 because that seemed like a cool number. I am kind of superstitious, so I decided if I had a bad year, I would switch numbers for my sophomore year.” Sweeney made the team, had a great year, and stuck with his No. 7 throughout his career playing for Georgetown which included two ECAC Defensive Player-of-the-Year awards, as well as being named a three-time All-American. [Kyle still carries his beloved No. 7 as a member of the Philadelphia Wings.]
“My brother Kevin played with Kyle at Georgetown,” remarks Colorado’s Brian Langtry. “I’ve never seen anyone take over a game like Kyle Sweeney could in college lacrosse. He’s probably the greatest long-stick middie ever to play college lacrosse. He’s also one of the few Americans to make the transition to an elite defenseman in the NLL.” Even though his collegiate lacrosse credentials should have assured him a shot at a professional career, upon graduation, Sweeney was once again skeptical.
“I knew I wasn’t going to make a ton of money playing lacrosse,” he confides, “so I decided to go with security and get a regular job.” Sweeney, one to aim high, found a job in finance at Sun Life Financial in New York City. At the same time, he was drafted in the eighth round by the Wings in the 2003 entry draft— a situation that set up a hectic commute.
“Fortunately, I can operate on five or six hours of sleep,” Sweeney says. Sweeney commutes from New York to Philadelphia weekly to the Wednesday night practices. With thirty pounds of lacrosse gear in hand, he stands alongside commuters on the subway to New Jersey. He then meets three Philadelphia Wings teammates who are also commuting from the New York/New Jersey area, and they pile in a car for a two-hour ride from Hoboken, N.J. to Exton, Pa. for the team’s 9:30 p.m. practice. After practice, Sweeney has to do the trip in reverse often arriving at his New York City apartment around 3:00 in the morning. If lucky—he gets three hours of sleep before he puts on his suit and heads to the office.
Somehow, he makes it work. He had a solid rookie season with the Wings in 2005, scoring one goal (against the rival Buffalo Bandits) and notching six assists in twelve games. He was even more impressive in his second season, netting four goals and nine assists in fifteen games. Sweeney’s move into NLL lacrosse came with some adjustments—one of the most notable was going from the long-pole (roughly six feet in length) to the typical indoor NLL lacrosse sticks (roughly 3-½ feet in length).
“It is hard to explain for people that do not play lacrosse,” he advises, “but it’s like taking your favorite golf club that took you years to perfect hitting and then replacing with a golf club half its size, and they still expect you to hit the same way.”
Sweeney’s favorite moment in lacrosse is the opening face off. “A jail-break,” he says. His own assessment of his play: success due to quick hands and aggressive checks. But he says he may not be the best position player on defense—he likes to take chances. Fortunately for Sweeney, this works well for his style of play. He’s known as one of the best “take-away” artists in the NLL.
“When I think of Sweeney, I think of how good of a transition player he is,” says Rochester’s Marshall Abrams. “He has a great set of skills, passing, and vision. I admire how fast he gets up and down the field.”
Sweeney says the highlight of the 2006 season was the home victory over the Toronto Rock. “They had beaten us seven times in row,” he says. “Not only that, but there was a brotherly rivalry as our coach, Lindsey Sanderson, was the brother of the Toronto
coach, Terry Sanderson, and it was in front of our home crowd.”
The game was on March 4. Toronto had already beaten Philadelphia earlier in the season 12–11 at Toronto. This time the Wings got their revenge. Although Philadelphia trailed 9–5 at the half, it was Sweeney who scored the first goal of the third period—an unassisted goal that brought his team within three.
This sparked a 6–1 domination of the third period, which the Wings went on to win 14–12 in front of a raucous crowd at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.
Sweeney can also add another moment to his illustrious professional lacrosse career—champion. Sweeney was a member of the Philadelphia Barrage MLL team that pummeled the Denver Outlaws 23–12 in front of 5,374 fans at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, to win the championship (Steinfeld Cup) in 2006.
“He’s a great all-around player,” comments MLL teammate Armando Polanco. “He’s got a great stick, he’s super fast, and he virtually never gets beaten on defense. In the outdoor league, he wasn’t beaten once all season. This never happens.
Because of his speed, nobody beats Kyle Sweeney. Kyle is a hustler, scrambles for loose balls, he’ll scrap, he’ll fight, and he’ll do anything to win. He’s also a nice guy off the field.”
Sweeney, who loves to travel, aspires to be a globe trotter and help spread the gospel of lacrosse in new countries. “My dream job,” he says, “would be to start lacrosse programs in Ireland.”