Watch Lynchburg College's Tyler Tolson play, and you can easily see what makes him a good attackman. He is constant motion with or without the ball. His accuracy makes him one of the best finishers in college lacrosse.
Lynchburg coach Steve Koudelka shakes his head in amazement when talking about Tolson.
"Whatever God took away from Tyler Tolson, he gave back to him in other areas," Koudelka said.
One of those areas happens to be perseverance. Tolson, a sophomore, has overcome two major surgeries on his left knee and a limb-lengthening procedure on the same leg nearly seven years ago.
There were times when Tolson was more concerned about just stepping back onto the field, much less being one of the country's top scorers. In eight games this season, Tolson has scored 37 goals. What's even more impressive is that he has taken only 55 shots. His shooting percentage is a sizzling .673.
"In my 11 years here, he is the best finisher ever. He is a player you definitely have to respect," Koudelka said.
You respect him more because of his sheer desire. According to his parents, they first noticed that Tolson's left leg was slightly shorter than the other as a toddler, and it got worse as he grew older. They brought him heels and lifts for the inside of his shoes, but when they wanted to make changes on the exterior about nine years ago, Tyler balked, even though his left leg was three inches shorter than his right.
"I think he was concerned about the other kids laughing and making fun of him," said his father, John. "We had been reading about the surgery, and already had been talking to some friends, doctors and others about the limb-lengthening procedure, and we thought this was the best time. The tough thing was that we, as parents, were making decisions for him because he was only in the eighth grade.
"There were other choices. He could have taken shots to slow down his growth plate and basically shortened one leg, but he would have been about 5-foot-6 as opposed to being 5-11, which he is now. The doctor recommended the surgery because Tyler was a boy and knowing how men feel about their height, especially when it comes to things like sports, dating and so on, we agreed."
According to John Tolson, the surgery, a three-hour procedure, basically required doctors to break the femur in his son's hip. A "halo" type device was attached from Tyler's hip down to his shin, and pins were inserted into his leg to hold the bone structure in place.
That was the easy part.
The hard part was the six months of rehabilitation, and several infections. Every day for three months after the surgery, doctors would turn a screw three times a day to lower the bone in his left leg a millimeter, allowing the ligaments and tendons to stretch with the bone while it grew.
"It was painful at first, and then it became like a roller coaster with the ups and downs," said Tyler, a Lutherville native. "Therapy was six hours a day and it consisted of swimming, walking, always moving and always getting stronger. Before the operation, I always played with a limp, and it didn't affect me. But when I got older, in my late 40s and 50s, I knew I was going to have problems with my back and hips.
"When I first got back on the field, the first step I took was the best experience I ever had. It was awesome," Tyler said.
There were still more battles. When he returned to Loyola High in the ninth grade, Tolson had not played lacrosse in two years. He played well throughout his high school career, but few Division I coaches recruited him, backing off because of the leg injuries. Lynchburg, though, was in the mix with several other Division III schools such as Roanoke, Washington and Dickinson.
"To me, he had already proven himself," Koudelka said. "He was successful in one of the best areas for high school lacrosse and playing for a great school. And once you met him, you could see he was a great kid, and that's something you look for in recruiting."
Tolson is quiet, downright shy at times. He is well-mannered and humble. He likes country music and adores Jimmy Buffett. He is completely focused when it comes to playing sports, especially basketball and lacrosse.
And oh, can he score goals.
A year ago, he played on the extra-man offense, but now much of the offense centers on him. A lot of attackmen can't play effectively without the ball, but Tolson can. On some plays, he is just as comfortable being a decoy as the intended target.
He has an assortment of creative moves and enough burst in his legs to get separation. He still wears a brace from the operation, but it's more for security than out of necessity. For a kid who once ran with a noticeable limp, there are now few who can keep up with him.
"He has a great sense of space and the ability to get open," Koudelka said. "And then when he is close to the goal he is able to slow things down. He can make shots up close that others can't. He is the quintessential finisher."
And a model of perseverance. When he comes home for the summer, Tolson is usually out in the yard giving tips to youngsters in the neighborhood.
"Never, ever give up," Tolson said. "Even when things are going wrong, or things aren't going your way, keep working because they eventually will go your way."