Standing on the sideline at Rutgers University for the 2001 NCAA men's lacrosse final four, an 11-year-old Nick Elsmo realized the sport wasn't just a hobby for him -- it was his passion.
Elsmo, now a midfielder at Severn, had traveled to the event with his father Leif Elsmo, an ESPN lacrosse broadcaster.
The younger Elsmo was wide-eyed as he watched Princeton defeat Syracuse in overtime for the national title and got to walk through the locker rooms and meet players.
"My dad announced games my whole life and I dreamed of playing in college early on," Elsmo said. "But watching the big hits up close, the goals scored and the pile on the field after winning the national championship is when the switch really turned on."
Elsmo has become one of the metro area's top players. He had a breakout season last year, amassing 45 goals and 32 assists in leading the Admirals to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinals.
Despite being double- and triple-teamed, Elsmo led the charge in Severn's turnaround from a 7-9 season in 2005, earning first team All-Metro honors in the process.
Statistics, wins and playoff victories, however, offer only a slight glimpse into the 6-foot, 190-pound senior's value to the team, which goes far beyond the stat sheet.
"Nick is a throwback player who excels in all facets of the game and sets the tone with the example he sets, not just in games and practices, but also in the way he walks the halls of Severn and conducts himself as a young man," Severn coach Andy Hilgartner said. "It's nice when your best player and leader is one of the hardest-working kids on the team."
Fundamentally and technically sound, Elsmo, who will attend Virginia next year on a lacrosse scholarship, is adept at facing off, feeding teammates, dodging, playing defense and using an arsenal of shots to score despite all the defensive attention.
"He draws the best defenseman every game, but he has a great understanding of the sport," Hilgartner said. "No matter what defense is thrown at him, he's able to adjust, control the team and create some offense for himself as well as his teammates."
Known for his passing and goal-scoring, Elsmo's defensive prowess and lacrosse intelligence make him the consummate midfielder.
"When I'm on the field, I try to make everyone around me better," Elsmo said. "I like to dodge and look for the feed before looking for my shot. I enjoy defense just as much as offense and take pride in not letting the other team score."
Even when he donned his first set of lacrosse pads, his understanding of the game was advanced.
"When he was 7 or 8 years old, he stood out because of his grasp of the game -- the strategy and passing in particular," said Brian Wood, Elsmo's youth coach who is a former All-American at Johns Hopkins and a St. Mary's graduate. "While most kids were interested in scoring, Nick asked certain questions that led you to believe that he was taking in much more."
A six-time varsity captain in football, basketball and lacrosse, Elsmo's versatility and leadership is not limited to when he's sprinting downfield cradling a stick.
As a sophomore in football, he twice scored three touchdowns in a game and led the Admirals in receiving. He's played linebacker, defensive back, quarterback, slot back, running back, wide-out, punter and kicker during his football career.
After a disheartening, 15-point loss to Archbishop Curley in basketball this past season, Elsmo appeared unexpectedly at the front door of Severn coach Charles Duckett.
With the team feeling discouraged, Elsmo implored Duckett to put the players through a rigorous practice. Duckett wasn't convinced initially, but was moved by his captain's commitment and persuasiveness.
"I was dejected and the team was dejected and it took a lot of courage for Nick to step out of his peer group and accept the responsibility on his shoulders," Duckett said. "He's very rare in that he wants to set the tone and is willing to do the hard work for the benefit of others."
The team responded with a 19-point victory at Gilman in its next game.
Entering his final high school lacrosse season, Elsmo picked up right where he left off last year.
In the Admirals' opening game against St. Anne's-Belfield in Charlottesville, Va., Elsmo won the first faceoff, raced downfield and scored with less than 10 seconds elapsed. He totaled three goals and one assist in Severn's 8-5 victory.
"Another coach was scouting the game and commented on Nick's unselfishness, saying he could have scored a lot more if he chose to," Hilgartner said. "He has a team-first attitude and wants to get the other guys involved, but if he has to, he'll take over."
In Severn's next game against Western Reserve Academy, a team from Ohio ranked No. 25 nationally by Inside Lacrosse magazine, Elsmo scored one goal before sitting out the second half with a strained hip flexor in an 8-7 loss.
The prospect of being harassed by opposing defenses stacked to limit his effectiveness has only served to motivate Elsmo.
"It takes extra work to get opportunities, but my teammates work hard to free me up with picks and screens," Elsmo said. "The attention is something I've had to deal with, but I want to be the guy that teams plan for. I want to become a better player and we want to be in the playoffs and in a hunt for the championship come May."