Manhasset lacrosse’s Girard a faceoff master, but that’s not all he is

Manhasset lacrosse’s Girard a faceoff master, but that’s not all he is
Manhasset lacrosse senior faceoff specialist Cal Girard (9) is winning 86 percent of his draws this season, helping the defending state champs start the season 7-0. Photo credit: Myles Tintle

It can be over in an instant, or it could take as long as 30 seconds.

Two lacrosse players come to the center of the field, with no teammate closer than about 10 yards away. A referee puts the ball on the ground, and both opponents bend down in a crouch.

Their heads and shoulders are mere inches apart; if you didn’t know better you’d think they were about to hug. Sticks poised on the ground on either side of the ball, these two combatants are about to battle.

Suddenly the tweet of a whistle blows, and the two boys go at it. Much like in sumo wrestling, it’s hard to tell who’s winning until someone has won.

Finally, sometimes after five seconds and sometimes after as much as 45 seconds, one player emerges with the ball, a roar goes up from his team’s sideline, and a brand-new possession has begun.

This is the blessed life of Manhasset senior Cal Girard, who might be the best FOGO in New York, one of the best in the country, and is damn proud of it.

What’s a FOGO?

A FOGO, in lacrosse parlance, stands for “Face Off, Get Off.”

Meaning, Girard and his brethren are out there for one specific job: After a goal is scored, or at the start of each quarter, win the face-off and get possession for his team, pass to a teammate, then race like the dickens to the sideline to be replaced by another player on the squad.

Someone who, theoretically, is more skilled, more athletic and more likely to help the team score.

Like a placekicker or long-snapper in football, or a pinch-runner in baseball, FOGO’s are incredibly important for very short periods of time, and often don’t get much credit from outsiders for success

They have highly specialized skills, and very few are as skilled as Girard.

Against nationally-ranked Darien on April 7, according to USALax Magazine, Girard won 14 of 16 faceoffs and scored a goal.

For the season he’s winning a ridiculous 86 percent of his faceoffs, giving defending state champion Manhasset (7-0 as of April 21) possession after possession, and that day he helped the Indians dominate their Connecticut foes, 15-2.

“It’s a wrestling match,” Girard says, a big smile creeping across his face. “It’s just you and another guy battling and everyone’s watching, no one else can get involved, and you win and feel great and then you run off and wait for the next one.

“It’s awesome.”

Listening to Girard talk about faceoffs is akin to hearing a chef talk about food, or a pianist extol the greatness of the 88 keys. He lights up at the mention of the topic.

Girard’s been a faceoff specialist going back to middle school, and now he gives his teammates the confidence to know they’re almost always going to get possession after a draw.

“He’s just a special type of athlete,” said Joey Terenzi, a former Manhasset teammate who now plays for the University of Virginia. “Not many faceoff guys can match up with him athletically, and then you add the skills he has. It’s kind of unfair.

“Without him,” Terenzi added, “we don’t win games.”

Girard’s accolades are too numerous to list here, but he was a USA Lacrosse All-American as a junior, when he scored 10 goals for the Indians and was snatched up by perennial powerhouse Duke as soon as the signing period opened in September 2022.

“He’s a very physically and mentally tough athlete, and he’s a very low-gravity kid,” said Manhasset head coach Keith Cromwell. “He’s very strong for who he is, and he’s very smart. He’s just a huge piece of our success.”

But Girard, as good as he is at winning draws, can do other things, too. And therein lies the battle every FOGO has with their coaches: They’re so valuable at what they do, that the idea of letting them play major minutes, and possibly get hurt, is enough to send the team’s sideline leaders quaking with fear.

But many FOGO’s like Girard are very good in all areas and fight to stay on the field after winning the draw.

“It’s hard because I don’t think of myself as a typical faceoff guy, because I know I can score and push the pace for us,” Girard said. And sometimes (Cromwell) lets me stay on the field and create some early offense. But sometimes I know I need to just pass to Jack (Peterson) or Liam (Connor) and get to the sideline.”

Girard traces his faceoff prowess to childhood hockey, his first love. He said his quick hands and strength learned through stickhandling on the ice helped him when he started playing lacrosse.

By middle school in Manhasset he discovered he was pretty good at faceoffs, and began to take them seriously, going to specialized camps and training.

“The biggest thing is you have to have a short memory,” he said. “If you lose one, or three in a row, or five, you can’t dwell on it. You just go back to the bench and regroup, and think about what you could’ve done differently.

“So much of being a FOGO is being strong mentally, as much as it is physically.”

Girard said people outside FOGO-land don’t realize how much practice and skill goes into it. From the hours of watching tape of other FOGO’s he’ll go against, to the physical strength and quickness it takes to wedge the ball away from a foe and clamp it into your stick’s cradle, it’s a job that requires a lot of time and effort.

“There’s kind of a fraternity of us FOGO’s, because we all know each other and what we go through,” Girard said. “I like to think I’m more athletic and have more stick skills than other FOGO’s, but we’re all in this together.”

The other major advantage a great FOGO gives a team, Cromwell said, is the psychological edge constant faceoff wins give a team.

As in the Darien game this year and in some Manhasset playoff games last spring, Girard won so many faceoffs in a row that the opponent went six, seven, even eight minutes of game time without getting a single possession.

“It’s completely deflating when you can’t win a faceoff,” Cromwell said. “I’ve bene on both sides of it. “If you can’t get possessions, you can’t score, and you feel helpless on the field.
“If you’re on the good side of it,” Cromwell added, “it’s a great time.”

With Girard’s excellence shining through the first few years of his Manhasset careers, many top Division I programs were interested. But once Duke, a three-time national champ and regular participant in the NCAA Final Four, showed interest, Girard needed to look no further.

“They were my dream school,” he said. “The academics, the campus, the lacrosse tradition, and then meeting the coaches and seeing how super they were, I was so excited to sign there.”

With his place in the FOGO world exalted among those who know, Girard hopes to help lead the Indians to another state championship this June. With another stacked team filled with other Division I signees, Girard knows that as much as he’d like to do more, he’s happy doing whatever the coaches ask.

“This is a whole new year, and last year’s (title) doesn’t mean anything this year,” Girard said. “I think we’re so close this season, as a group, that we have a great chance to repeat.”

If they do, you can bet the FOGO, who most fans never recognize, will lead them.

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