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Blue blood

The Baltimore Sun

For weeks, Paul Rabil had done so much to light the way for the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team, especially when it came time for the junior midfielder to finish off an opponent with the ball in his stick.

But at this moment, after the Blue Jays had meandered through the first half and held a modest 5-3 halftime lead over an inferior and inspired Mount St. Mary's team, the Blue Jays' best player decided that leading merely by example would not do.

So after coach Dave Pietramala voiced his dissatisfaction, Rabil stepped into the halftime huddle, spoke up in loud, angry terms and challenged Hopkins to stop dragging its feet and start acting like Hopkins.

Looking back on that 15-3 victory on April 30 - it followed a grinding 9-7 win two days earlier at Towson and coincided with the start of final exams - it was no shock the Blue Jays overwhelmed the Mount. But the memory of Rabil asserting himself by tearing into his tired teammates resonates as Hopkins heads into today's NCAA tournament quarterfinal against Georgetown at Princeton.

"That's the first time I've heard Paul lay into us. He's usually the quiet, confident leader," freshman midfielder Michael Kimmel said. "We were flat. We had no energy. He got us going. Whenever he talks, people definitely listen."

Added Pietramala: "Paul unloaded, and it was the appropriate words from the appropriate guy."

Although he is uncomfortable with such labels, there is no question that, as he barrels toward the finish of his third remarkably productive year, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Rabil has emerged as The Man at Homewood.

The size, speed and stick skills he brought from DeMatha have always been evident. Before Rabil had played his first college game, then-senior Blue Jays superstar midfielder Kyle Harrison predicted Rabil would go down as the greatest ever to play the position for Hopkins.

He is on his way to fulfilling Harrison's prophecy. Through 44 career games, Rabil has 73 goals and 45 assists. Former four-time first-team All-American Del Dressel (1983-1986) is the only Hopkins midfielder with a more impressive pace.

And one year after leading Hopkins in scoring and earning first-team All-America honors as a sophomore, Rabil has erased a slow start with some torrid scoring, despite encountering endless defensive slides as the unquestioned focal point of the offense.

His work in the clutch this spring speaks of the cool operator Rabil has been from the beginning. As a rookie in his fourth game, he came off the bench to join the first midfield with Hopkins in a 7-1 hole at Syracuse. All Rabil did was score three quick goals, finish with four and spark the Blue Jays to a 12-11 overtime stunner.

Extra special

This year, Rabil became the first player in school history to decide two overtime victories in the same season by making game-winning shots against Princeton and Maryland. He also has taken down Navy and Loyola with scoring binges in the second half.

"You get that adrenaline rush, that extra bit of energy [with the game on the line]," said Rabil, who has 14 goals and 11 assists during Hopkins' current six-game winning streak. "What it comes down to is, we need a goal, and if I can get a step on my man and I have a lane, I'm going to take the shot.

"I guess you mature and learn to handle those situations and thrive on them. It doesn't matter to me who scores, as long as somebody does and we win."

And to think Rabil nearly ended up wearing a different color of blue.

Had he gone the route of his father, Allan - not to mention 16 other members of his family - Paul would have attended North Carolina. Michael Jordan is still his favorite athlete. Tar Heels basketball coaching legend Dean Smith remains an idol in the Rabils' Gaithersburg household.

But after Paul's older brother, Michael, broke the mold by choosing to go Ivy League and playing defensive tackle at Dartmouth, Paul decided to give Hopkins a hard look when Pietramala went after him full bore.

"Talk about fighting an uphill battle," Pietramala said. "Paul didn't seem that interested in us. We thought his dream was to go to Chapel Hill. But we also found out that Paul was a great listener."

While leading DeMatha to three league championships and a four-year record of 49-16, and scoring 153 points over his last two years, Rabil was eyeing Hopkins. He said he watched tapes of Dressel, former star midfielder A.J. Haugen, even Harrison. Then came his recruiting visit and a passionate pitch by Harrison.

"We left the choice rightfully up to Paul," Allan Rabil said. "He was looking for a very competitive, want-to-win program. Carolina was trying to rebuild. He loved the fact that at Hopkins, they bled lacrosse."

Said Paul Rabil, a political science major who is pursuing a possible career in commercial real estate: "Everyone in my family bleeds Carolina blue, except for my brother and me. But after spending time with Coach throughout the recruiting process and staying with Kyle on my visit, I realized the tradition of the program was unlike any other. I couldn't pass it up."

That first year was magical for Rabil. Led by a core of hungry, talented seniors, with Harrison at the forefront, the Blue Jays ended a 17-season drought by going 16-0 and winning the NCAA title.

Rabil was background music at times. But his 23 goals, 14 assists and occasional huge moments - he assisted Benson Erwin on the overtime game-winner against Virginia in the national semifinals - portended a force to come.

'Ready to go'

Harrison, who now plays for Major League Lacrosse's New Jersey Pride, saw the future after playing with Rabil in the fall of 2004. "I came in not knowing what I was doing and not being able to catch left-handed. Paulie came in ready to go, ready to start on the first midfield," said Harrison, who reunites with Rabil once a week for a Homewood Field shoot-around and dinner.

Princeton coach Bill Tierney, who was on the receiving end of Rabil's game-ending goal that beat the Tigers in double overtime March 3, is not surprised by the midfielder's progress. "From Day One, I've looked at Rabil and thought this kid is an animal," Tierney said.

"What defines players now a lot is size. It's an important thing. You're always looking for speed and the skills, like the ability to shoot with both hands and do it on the run. Rabil is all of that, and he's so cool and calm and he cares so much. That's the way it is with leaders."

To watch Rabil this spring is to watch a star refine his game by slowing it down. Early on, as he encountered defenses that swarmed around him to make him give up the ball, Rabil would feel the pressure to score and get into trouble with extra dodges. He had only nine goals in the first six games.

But, as Hopkins was going through a midseason three-game slide that dropped the Blue Jays to 4-4, Rabil was becoming more adept at drawing hard slides and making passes to open shooters. And as a dodger, he started jumping on tiring defenses later in games after he had figured them out early.

Now, Rabil has a career-high 18 assists, the Blue Jays are getting balanced scoring and averaging 11 goals per game during their winning streak, and Hopkins is within one win of its fifth final four appearance in the past six seasons.

"As long as I'm getting the defense to rotate and getting the whole offense involved, that's my role. It's not about scoring as many goals as I can," Rabil said.

And please, he would rather not be compared to the likes of Harrison, Haugen and Dressel. Not yet.

"I don't soak that up," he said. "To think of myself in the same category as those guys is inconceivable. Honestly, I don't think I should be mentioned in the same breath as them."

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

Among the best

Here's how Paul Rabil stacks up against some of Johns Hopkins' best midfielders through this stage in their careers.

Player Years 3-year goals total 3-year assists total

Del Dressel '83-'86 77 55

Paul Rabil '05-'07 73 45

Kyle Harrison '02-'05 57 25

A.J. Haugen '97-'00 58 17

Adam Wright '89-'92 50 6

Milford Marchant '93-'96 49 19

John Krumenacker '82-'85 46 43

Kevin Boland '01-'04 34 50

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