Loyola coach Dave Cottle shakes his head and laughs, as he recalls wondering where Gavin Prout would fit in with the Greyhounds.
Three months ago, Prout was a late addition at Loyola, a Canadian player with a reputation as a scorer with great field vision and polished stickwork, and a junior joining his third collegiate team. Two years ago, Mercyhurst College had downgraded to Division II, prompting Prout to transfer to nearby Gannon, which dropped its Division I program last year.
Prout finally has found a home on the Evergreen campus. And as Cottle has watched Prout score a team-high 22 goals to push No. 3 Loyola into tonight's showdown at top-ranked Syracuse with a 7-0 record, the coach has found a place for his most prized newcomer.
Prout is listed as a midfielder, where he runs with the first team. But when that unit takes a break, Prout shifts to the attack. The Whitley, Ontario, native is just too good to sit when the Greyhounds have the ball.
"Whenever we're on offense, Gavin is on the field," Cottle said. "He can dodge, he's a good cutter, he can catch feeds inside, and he's a good shooter. If he gets his shots, he's going to score.
"We took a gamble on him, and it turned out to be a pretty good one."
Cottle grins at the thought of Prout running with the fourth midfield group when Loyola began practicing in January, soon after Prout's arrival. Besides what he had seen on one inconclusive piece of game tape from Prout's year at Gannon, Cottle knew little about him as he set about recruiting him.
Cottle got glowing reports from some coaches who had seen Prout play. He also studied the intriguing evidence on paper. Prout had spent most of his life playing box lacrosse, including recent years at the highest amateur levels in Canada. He had been a major part of two Minto Cup (national championships) title teams. He also had scored 47 goals with 40 assists for Gannon in 1999.
After losing so many scorers from last year's 12-1 team, Cottle dug up the last chunk of scholarship money available and brought a new sharpshooter on board for the next two years.
"I was like a kid in a candy store when I picked up that phone call from Dave Cottle and set up my recruiting trip," said Prout, 22.
"These are the kinds of teams, the elite Division I teams, you never dream you'd be on. Coach Cottle plans. He's smart. He saved some extra money for a rainy day and he spent it wisely on this decision, hopefully. I think I've surprised them a little bit."
The sarcasm in Prout's voice is clear. He is no self-promoter, and you probably won't see him show much emotion on the field. Yet Prout cannot hide his self-assurance while discussing the game that has captivated him since he was 7.
His teammates marvel at Prout's businesslike demeanor, which borders on casual. And on a team that features hyper-competitive types like midfielders Mike Battista and Peter Haas, Prout lends a quiet balance to the locker room chemistry.
"I've got a head for the game," Prout said. "I have a way of calming down players on the field. I keep my cool in the hot situations."
Haas has seen his share of examples.
"He's so mellow and laid-back. I don't think [Prout] puts a lot of effort into making himself known. He scores six goals in a game, and it's like he really doesn't care," said Haas, who also appreciates Prout's striking ability to swipe ground balls.
"There was one [ball] in the middle of the crease at Towson, I'm going to pick it up, and all of a sudden I saw a stick snap out of nowhere and [Prout] was running away with it. He's always in the right place, and he's got a great stick, a great feel for the ball."
Prout has played indoors, outdoors and all over the field. He even was a defensive midfielder with a long stick on the Canadian under-19 team that won a bronze medal in the World Games. But offense is his game.
"He is the perfect addition for them," said Towson coach Tony Seaman, who watched Prout score four goals to lead Loyola to a 13-8 victory over the Tigers last week. "They needed a finisher. Now they've got one."
Prout, 5 feet 9, 170 pounds, proved that quickly. In a preseason scrimmage against Virginia, Cottle tried him at attack. He scored three goals in the fourth quarter. In the season's second game, he sparked the Greyhounds to victory at Hofstra with six goals and three assists.
He followed that up three weeks later with another six-goal effort against Brown.
"I haven't played as much field lacrosse, but I first picked up a stick 15 years ago," Prout said. "Being a box lacrosse player has helped me a lot, being able to handle the ball the way I can. I've had a little more experience in the entire lacrosse scene."
Prout is especially good at biding his time patiently on the wing, waiting to slip into cracks in the defense. Forced shots basically are not part of his lacrosse vocabulary. And he has quite a creative streak. Witness his behind-the-back goal against Brown. Or his first score at Towson, where he circled the crease before practically shoving his stick into the net left-handed.
"He makes goals we haven't seen anybody make," Cottle said. "He's clever on the ground, clever playing inside. Big games don't scare him. He didn't come here doing a lot of talking. He did a lot of playing."
Cottle chuckles at the timing that landed Prout at Loyola. Prout had been rehabilitating an injured shoulder last fall, and had not done much to sell himself to potential Division I bidders. By the time Syracuse and Virginia were calling, they were asking Prout about playing in 2001. Loyola had money to offer Prout for the present.
"All I promised him was if he came to Loyola, we wouldn't drop the program," Cottle said. "He's been a little better than we thought he'd be."