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Preston: Towson faceoff specialist Alex Woodall has different kind of hunger pain

Towson University senior Alex Woodall saw the results of all his hard work this summer come early in the season opener against Johns Hopkins, when he scored one goal and had two assists.

That might sound like an average day for a high-scoring attackman, but Woodall is a faceoff specialist. They are like offensive linemen in football. They don’t get a lot of assists, they hardly ever score goals and there isn’t a lot of glory.

As a junior last season, Woodall scored only one goal in 15 games. But that was before he lost 25 pounds.

“It was a relief,” said the 6-foot, 225-pound Woodall. “I love scoring goals. When a faceoff guy does it, it is a big momentum swing. I only did it once last year, and it was kind of disappointing. But if I did it against one of the top teams in the country, it makes me hungry for more success, which means more success for my team.”

Woodall is a major key to success for No. 7 Towson this season. If he continues to win faceoffs, the Tigers can control the tempo of the game. It’s a bonus if he can score some goals and add a few assists.

In the bigger picture, he has helped bring a new attitude to a team that struggled with some character issues after a Final Four appearance in 2017, with a pair of starters suspended indefinitely last season for violating unspecified team rules. Towson dropped to 7-8 in 2018, but Woodall showed he was willing to make a difference when he dropped from 250 pounds to 225 during the offseason.

Unlike the rest of the team a year ago, he didn’t just get big-headed. He just got too big, period. He needed to show a new commitment.

“The coach never told me I had to lose weight, but it was pretty evident to me and the coaches,” Woodall said. “Last year I could win the draw, but I weighed 250 pounds and couldn’t run down the field. I couldn’t run as fast I needed to score a goal or get it to the point person to shoot and score. So, basically, all the other team had to do was put an athletic person on me who could run with me down the field.”

Woodall won 168 of 276 faceoffs last season (60.9 percent), but had only one goal. During the offseason, he met up with two of his former coaches and Towson alumni, Matt and Brian Vetter, who, along with their brother Greg, founded Tessemae’s, an organic salad dressing and condiment company based in Essex.

Matt and Brian had a nice, subtle talk with Woodall.

“One morning they met with me and just said, ‘You are fat, out of shape, and what are you doing?’ ” Woodall said. “They said they could help me if I wanted it. They helped me out for a week and we just bonded. Then they said you might as well just intern with us and we will show you the right path to a healthy lifestyle.”

So instead of going out with his friends at night in his hometown of Annapolis, Woodall went to the gym for workouts and then got in bed early. The Vetters offered Woodall books about diet and suggested what foods he should eat.

They played indoor lacrosse with him three times a week and worked on his skills and mechanics. He lost six pounds in the first week and later inches off his waist.

But, more importantly, the Vetter brothers mentored Woodall about life. They emphasized the importance of goals and achieving them. It was a life-changing experience and didn’t go unnoticed by Towson coach Shawn Nadelen.

“The weight loss is a just a piece to the noticeable difference in Alex this year,” said Nadelen. “Yes, it has made him a better faceoff man and more effective on the field. I feel that the bigger picture of Alex’s lifestyle change is a confirmation of his commitment to being a better teammate and a leader that is willing to get outside his comfort zone in order to achieve his and our teams goals. Alex has made notable strides in his maturity and it has had a positive impact on himself and everyone around him.”

The impact has helped Towson. Little things make a difference and can influence players, especially the younger ones. For instance, Woodall passed the conditioning test on his first run this season, something he failed to do in previous years. He puts in more time in the weight room and is inclined to help others.

It adds up, because a year ago the Tigers fell apart.

“I was part of the problem,” Woodall said. “We weren’t close as a team like we are now or when I was a sophomore. We got ahead of ourselves from the year before and it was like a hangover. We kept thinking we were going to be good again just from the year before.

“Then we had some off-the-field issues and then a couple of guys had to be dismissed in the middle of the season. Those distractions hurt us. I just wanted to come back and play up to my goal and potential and that’s to be a first team All-American.”

The Tigers are 2-0 and ranked in the top 10 of the major lacrosse polls. Against Hopkins, Woodall won 21 of 28 faceoffs and was named the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Week. In two games, he has won 33 of 48 faceoffs.

But his recent success isn’t all about the weight loss.

“I had seven points when I was a sophomore and lighter,” Woodall said. “But weight doesn’t help you gain an advantage before the clamp. The No. 1 thing is quickness, then technique, tenacity and the desire to want to win and find ways to get the ball and run away from offensive pressure without any turnovers or being a liability to your team.”

Woodall sounds like his coach, Nadelen, who works directly with his faceoff specialists. If the Tigers and Woodall continue to play well, it will be redemption of sorts for both the student and the teacher.

When Woodall was at St. Mary’s High, he was regarded as one of the top two faceoff specialists in the country. But poor grades caused most colleges to back away from him. Towson and High Point were the only schools to offer him scholarship money before he was NCAA eligible. Woodall went to High Point for a year before transferring to Towson.

“Coming back here has been a blessing for the last three years,” said Woodall, a former fullback and linebacker in high school. “We’re known for playing great defense and if we’re patient with our offense and tenacious on groundballs I think we will have a good season.”

Of course, it all starts with Woodall, the new skinny guy in the middle.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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