Quick study on faceoffs, Felix Knorr has Howard boys lacrosse on the rise

Felix Knorr’s contributions to the Howard boys lacrosse team are made with sudden bursts of excellence.

They take place on average 18 times per game this season, usually last anywhere from 3 to 10 seconds and happen in the middle of the field.

In those vital seconds, he displays his awareness, a combination of quickness and strength, polished technique, and determination.

A senior in his third varsity season, Knorr welcomes the one-on-one challenges that come with being one of the area’s top faceoff specialists.

His dominant work on faceoffs (he has won 115 out of 144, good for an 80 percent rate) is a catalyst for team success as No. 10 Howard is off to a 9-0 start. On Thursday, the Lions have their toughest test to date when they host No. 12 Glenelg for first place in Howard County. Game time is set for 5:30 p.m.

They are comforted knowing when it’s time for a faceoff, they’ll likely soon have the ball.

“The first thing that comes to mind is, ‘I’m going to win this.’ I always have that mentality and I just do what I was trained to do, and work hard as I can,” said Knorr, who has committed to Towson. “This year is very important to me — it’s my last here and I just want to do what I can to get us as far as we can go. Right now, we’re looking pretty good.”

Knorr has come a long way in a short time.

Consider: He grew up in New Orleans and barely heard of lacrosse, let alone picked up a stick, until he moved to the Baltimore area in ninth grade.

From the start, becoming a faceoff specialist made the most sense, as he was able to focus on one particular area while he learned the game. With a 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame — both agile and sturdy — Knorr had the athleticism to succeed, was even-keeled and immediately grew passion for the craft.

He quickly made up ground on local players who have had sticks in their hands since soon after baby bottles, thanks to hard work, repetition and a desire to be the best he can be.

After spending his freshman year at Long Reach, he transferred to Howard, where the program has had a steady flow of quality faceoff specialists while making regular trips to the state tournament in recent years. Much of Knorr’s rapid progress is a credit to the offseason work he puts in at Inner Circle Lacrosse under the tutelage of Jeremy Rualo Sr., who trains many of the area’s best faceoff specialists.

Rualo described Knorr’s journey as uncanny.

“He’s the perfect story of lacrosse rags to riches,” he said. “Guy had never played before, never picked up a stick until after eighth grade and he’s in the Baltimore hotbed. That’s tough to do. And then to do what he’s done at the level he does it is incredible.”

The most simple reason? “He loves the game and enjoys every second,” Rualo said. “All he ever wants to do is play lacrosse.”

Knorr is a complete package on faceoffs, according to assessments from several local coaches.

Howard coach Jimmy Creighton said nobody recognizes the referee’s whistle quicker than Knorr. Glenelg coach Josh Hatmaker, who has employed a number of strategies against Knorr with little success, credits quick hands that enable Knorr to put the ball wherever he wants.

Severna Park coach David Earl, whose Falcons went 20-0 last season in winning their second straight Class 4A-3A state crown, watched Knorr win a staggering 22 of 23 draws in the teams’ region playoff game.

“Felix is just a great player,” Earl said. “He’s a great kid, a hard worker with a high lacrosse IQ. He has a counter for everything. He just knows where to put the ball, whether it’s to himself or to his wings.”

Off the field, it’s all smiles with his teammates enjoying his easygoing ways. On the field, much of his success comes with the perfectionist approach he takes to the job. He can go out and win nine straight draws and then walks off upset when he finally loses one. He shrugs it off and then wins the next one.

“He loves what he’s doing and it motivates other guys to get better at what they’re doing, too,” Howard senior long pole Wes Mills said. “He gives us an edge over every team because we know we can rely on him. It’s kind of a safety thing knowing that every game, our faceoff guy is better.”

The Lions have made the state tournament in four of the past five years, winning the program’s only state title in 2015. John Travisano Jr., now a standout at Notre Dame, started the trend of fine Howard faceoff specialists when he won 83 percent of his draws as a senior in 2014. Ryan Land, now at Florida Tech, won 72 percent as a senior in 2015 when the Lions won their state crown. Knorr took over as a sophomore in 2016, winning 69 percent in helping the Lions reach the state title game. Last season, he won draws at an 81 percent clip when the Lions were knocked out of the region playoffs by Severna Park.

Before moving on to Towson next year, Knorr plans to do all he can to help bring home another state crown. The Lions, who are now competing in Class 4A North region, have a talented and experienced roster primed for a strong run. Senior Mark Bruner leads a potent attack, junior Ben Stephanos is an anchor on defense and Mills is the midfield glue.

“We have a good group who are really clicking, and as long as everyone does their jobs I feel we should be successful,” Knorr said.

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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