Loyola-Maryland’s Pat Spencer or Penn State’s Grant Ament might win the Tewaaraton Award, given to the nation’s most outstanding lacrosse player. But the courage award has to go to Towson faceoff specialist Alex Woodall.
Towson players and coaching staff tried for several weeks to squelch speculation that Woodall, a senior, had a fractured jaw but the news got around in the lacrosse world. But last Sunday, four weeks after first suffering the injury, Woodall was out on the field in the Tigers’ 14-13 opening-round loss to Maryland in overtime.
Woodall just didn’t show up but again showed why he is the best at his position in the college game by winning 22 of 31 faceoffs. The best part was that he walked off the field with his jaw and all his teeth intact.
And he left his coach in amazement.
“He is a warrior,” said Towson coach Shawn Nadelen. “He shouldn’t have been out there but chose to be out there. He was not going to let his senior year end without being on his terms. He did everything for himself, his team, everything he could to have an impact and he did. I couldn’t have been more proud of this man than this year and the leadership he showed.”
No one should play lacrosse with a broken jaw, especially a faceoff specialist. Attackmen get crunched when they try to get near the top of the crease and goalies are taking more direct hits with the dive rule back in effect this season. But faceoff specialists are like nose guards in the NFL.
They often get double- or tripled-teamed. They sometimes get hit high and other times low, or both at the same time. Some teams in high school and college still have plays where they intentionally go out and train wreck face-off specialists.
But Woodall left the game clear-headed enough to figure out he wanted to sign a pro contract with the Atlanta Blaze of Major League Lacrosse on Wednesday morning.
“Luckily, I didn’t get hurt,” Woodall said of the Maryland game. “But there was no way I was going to miss that game and it felt so great to go out and play. I knew at any time I could get hit in the face and if the jaw started floating I would have to have surgery but it turned out well.”
Woodall initially hurt his jaw in the first quarter of a game against Delaware. He got elbowed in the face late by a Blue Hens attackman after winning a faceoff and passing to his teammate. Woodall fell to the ground and initially thought he had a concussion.
But within seconds he discovered two of his teeth were chipped. He said he felt better later but didn’t go back into the game. The next morning he said he continued to feel better and thought he had just suffered a bruise because he mouth still hurt.
Team officials asked him to go to Union Memorial Hospital where tests revealed he had a fractured jaw.
“The recovery process was going to be about six weeks,” Woodall said. “The doctor told me I wouldn’t be able to play the rest of the year. Back then I couldn’t eat; all I was taking down was soup and smoothies. It was a devastating situation. My face hurt like hell. My teammates were upset and kept patting me on the back telling me they were sorry. I didn’t think I would play again.”
According to Woodall, doctors told him that his type of injury could heal without surgery but the key was for him was not to move too much or get hit in the face again. If he did, the fracture would be on both sides of his mouth instead of just the right.
But once the Tigers beat Drexel for the Colonial Athletic Association conference title on May 4, Woodall started to feel better. And then when he learned the first-round opponent was going to be Maryland, Woodall wanted to play.
He had to play. The Terps were his favorite team when he was younger.
The key was convincing his doctors at Towson University, which he did after thorough consultation with his parents, Nadelen and school officials.
“In high school, my dream school was going to Maryland and they ended up taking a different faceoff guy,” Woodall said. “I was devastated I didn’t go to Maryland because historically it’s a great program. Regardless of who we were playing in the first round, I wanted to play but this was Maryland, a team we hadn’t played in like eight or nine years. I told my coach I didn’t care, I wanted to play.”
At one point there was talk about a special pad being placed on the outside of Woodall’s helmet but that would probably serve as a target for opposing players.
In the end, Woodall wasn’t given any special equipment but certain instructions. He had to keep his head up at all times and get rid of the ball as soon as possible to avoid contact. If he won and started a fast break, he had to pass to an attackman who had spread outside on the wings.
Towson was content in playing six-on-six lacrosse than risk having Woodall hurt again. He basically went untouched until a Maryland player appeared to go out of his way to have contact with him in the third quarter.
“It was a cheap shot,” Woodall said. “I won the ball up field and their player tried to cross check me in the face. I was kind of in shock because the last thing I needed was to get hit in the face. Fortunately, everything was OK.”
Both Woodall and the Tigers played well. But they gave up the game-tying goal in regulation with three seconds remaining and then the game-winning goal with 2 minutes and 21 seconds left in the four-minute sudden-death overtime after Woodall had won the face-off.
And then it was all over. But Woodall’s heroics will be remembered for a long time. A faceoff specialist avoiding a serious collision in a lacrosse game is nearly impossible.
“The loss was a shock, at first I couldn’t take it,” Woodall said. “During the last 20 seconds there were already chants of Towson in the stands. We were about to have beaten every lacrosse team in the state of Maryland. And then we came up three seconds short.”
“Twenty years from now I will look back on this game but I will not second guess myself about playing,” Woodall said. “When you are finished you want to leave it all out on the field.”
And he did.