Playing in the Carrier Dome seemed like a dream. The 10,000 roaring fans were fanciful images in his head.
But to Casey Powell, his back yard was the Dome. And he was Gary Gait.
After watching Gary and Paul Gait work their magic, Powell and his brother, Ryan, relived each game in the afternoon behind their house. Wearing a bright orange Syracuse jersey with No. 22, Powell imitated Gary Gait move for move, soaring to take acrobatic shots, spinning through a series of defenders and slamming the ball into the net.
Seven years later, youngsters still flock to the Dome with their orange No. 22 jerseys and T-shirts. The only difference: they want to be Casey Powell.
"It's amazing," said Powell, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior attackman. "I remember idolizing the Gaits and now I'm a lot of kids' hero. I don't think of it as pressure, just the fun of it. It gets me more focused and I want to impress the fans and the kids."
Powell has become another Gary Gait and Syracuse's Mr. Everything. Johns Hopkins coach Tony Seaman once referred to Powell this season as "the next closest thing to God up in Syracuse right now."
The leading candidate for Player of the Year, Powell causes damage in numerous ways as he leads the Orangemen in goals (39) and assists (40). And name another high-scoring attackman who ranks among the nation's leaders in ground balls (77).
"Clearly, the best," Loyola coach Dave Cottle said. "As a coach, there are very few players that you walk off the field and appreciate. He's a player I would go pay to watch. He brings so much hustle to the game."
In an NCAA quarterfinal Saturday, Loyola didn't allow Powell to score on 10 shots, ending his 20-game streak. But he assisted on eight of the Orangemen's 13 goals, tying an NCAA tournament record and falling one shy of the school mark.
Maryland coach Dick Edell watched that film of Powell in preparation for the Terps' semifinal matchup Saturday at Byrd Stadium and said Powell is the top priority.
"He's the best offensive player out there, and I don't think there are any questions to that fact," Edell said.
"He's so versatile and is playing the 60th minute as it were the first. He's somebody we definitely have to account for every second of the game. We have a lot of planning to do."
Many coaches have logged numerous hours of preparation ever since Powell put on a Syracuse uniform. Not only does Powell epitomize versatility; he excels at it.
As a freshman, Powell scored at least one goal and two points in every game and was named a second-team All-America.
The following year, Syracuse coach Roy Simmons moved Powell from his accustomed attack slot to secure his midfield. Powell recorded five games of three-plus goals and was named first-team All-America as well as co-Midfielder of the Year.
He rotated back to attack this season, flourishing as the top scorer in the nation. Powell also plays on the wing on critical faceoffs.
"He has a unique style and is full of fantasy," Simmons said. "He's a high-risk player. It's obvious that he was a student of the Gaits. He's a complete player and does what has to be done."
Case in point: the regular-season finale against Hobart. At the start of overtime, Simmons held Powell off the field for a one-on-one talk.
Said Simmons: "I told him, 'I think you're the best player out here and many others think so, too. And people think I'm the worst coach in the world keeping you on the sidelines right now. But I don't want you to force anything and take it upon yourself to win the game.' "
So Powell stepped back onto the field and immediately scored the game-winner, ending an eight-minute Syracuse scoreless stretch.
"I try to tell him that he's Casey Powell and he's doing his job just being out on the field," Simmons said. "The enemy's game plan is worked around him. He's disruptive on who he is."
Unlike most of the Syracuse players, Powell didn't come from one of the New York high school powerhouses. However, he put Carthage Central in the spotlight, scoring a state-record 292 goals in his career and becoming its first Division I lacrosse player.
When Powell returns home to watch his brother, Mike, play at Carthage, he is swarmed by fans seeking autographs. After Powell takes warmups at the Carrier Dome or on the road, people line up to catch his attention.
Powell invariably stoops to the younger fans' level and talks to them, always the last one arriving back at the locker room. He sometimes gives youngsters signed game balls, his gloves and even treasured No. 22 jerseys.
This attitude stems from Powell's memories of the days in the backyard, as well as the day he was offered the chance to have uniform No. 22, which was worn by Orangemen All-Americans Gary Gait and Charlie Lockwood.
"I knew of the tradition behind the number and coach asked me the fall of my freshman year if I was up to the challenge," said Powell, who wore No. 1 in high school.
"Of course I took it. It's like a dream and I never thought this would ever happen."
A look at Casey Powell's year-by-year statistics, including goals, assists, total points and ground balls:
Year .... G ... A .. Pts ... GB
1995 ... 39 .. 28 ... 67 ... 51
1996 ... 32 .. 27 ... 59 ... 75
1997 ... 39 .. 40 ... 79 ... 77
Tot. .. 110 .. 95 .. 205 .. 203
Syracuse at a glance
Location: Syracuse, N.Y.
Coach: Roy Simmons
1997 record: 11-2
NCAA tournament titles: Six
Tournament record: 33-11
How the Orangemen got here: Beat Loyola, 13-12, in quarterfinals
Goals leader: Casey Powell (39)
Assists: Casey Powell (40)
Ground balls: Casey Powell (77)
Faceoffs: Tim Byrnes (.510)
Goalkeeper: Jason Gebhardt (.570)
Lacrosse Final 4
At College Park
Duke (12-3) vs. Princeton (13-0), noon
Syracuse (11-2) vs. Maryland (10-4), 2: 45 p.m.
At College Park
Semi winners, 10: 55 a.m.
Pub Date: 5/21/97