Circle of Lax: Instinctive attack Donahue follows in footsteps of Syracuse family
There was no place to shoot. The Donahue family moved into a new home and onto a larger property in Camillus, N.Y., with amenities like an extended driveway, more privacy and a wooded backyard.
But no place to play lacrosse.
“We had to do something,” said Kevin Donahue, the father and Syracuse assistant coach.
So, the family who breathes lacrosse built its own way to practice at home.
Kevin dug two holes about 30 yards behind the house, filling them with cement and 15-foot metal poles, then stringing a 20-foot net across them, all in one day. A lacrosse goal sat in front of the net. Above it all, he later installed a spotlight so his sons, Collin and Dylan, and younger sister Riley (then approximately 14, 10 and 7, respectively) could play lacrosse for as long as they liked, day or night.
“Sometimes for hours, sometimes for minutes,” Kevin recalls.
They continued practicing the family game they began playing at their old home where they rounded up neighborhood kids, some of whom went on to play for Syracuse, including the Donahues. Collin, an attack, graduated from Syracuse last season. Dylan, also an attack, is a redshirt freshman tied for the team lead in goals with five in three games this season. Dylan and Collin grew up wearing No. 17 just as their dad did, and they would too for the Orange.
After a childhood of watching his older brother grow into the uniform, his dad coaching by his side, Dylan is the most recent to don the number.
Lacrosse is ingrained in Dylan. So much of the game – his positioning, teammates and zone offenses – is hard for him to talk about. Wherever someone’s supposed to be on the field, it’s just understood.
Syracuse is also ingrained in Dylan. His father, older brother and three uncles all played for SU.
When Kevin would drive Dylan in his pick-up truck, usually a Chevy, they fed off of each other’s lacrosse IQ, discussing the finer points of offensive spacing, various drills and core fundamentals.
When family visits came around, whether it was a regular weekend or holiday, in Baldwinsville, N.Y., or Camillus, the Donahue children made sure to bring their sticks. As many as eight cousins, including future Binghamton and Cortland State attack Brian Donahue, would play at once. The former Orangemen, uncles and fathers watched on.
At dinner table conversations, the Donahues talked lacrosse.
“We’re nerds. We’re very nerdy about lacrosse,” Kevin said.
Dylan remembers traveling to tournaments in places like Sackets Harbor, N.Y., and Ithaca, N.Y., watching his older brother play for a team coached by his dad. That team also featured future Orange national champion goaltender John Galloway and attack Ryan Barber.
All Dylan really remembers is that it looked like fun. And as the neighbors he and his sister played lacrosse with eventually gave up the game, Dylan bounced between playing pick-up against his brother’s friends five years older than him, as well as his own peers.
His backyard teammates and opponents included Tim Desko (Syracuse, Rochester Rattlers), Matt Schattner (Cornell), Joe Fletcher (Loyola) and Cody Hoose (Oswego).
Every once in a while, his father would sneak Dylan into an overage game.
Kevin drove the back roads from Camillus to The Ultimate Goal in Marcellus, N.Y., or to Jones Road in Baldwinsville for box games with players five years older. He wouldn’t tell Dylan he was too young. Dylan just competed and sharpened his skills.
He’s 5 feet, 9 inches tall now, but Dylan was slow to develop. Kevin wasn’t convinced Dylan had the athletic ability to play Division-I lacrosse until his junior year of high school. But in the winter of 2011, Galloway, a former SU goalie, then a senior, returned to West Genesee High School to play with members of the varsity team.
Galloway won goaltender of the year, first-team All-American honors and finished the 2011 season with Syracuse’s all-time record in wins, minutes played by a goalie and NCAA Tournament goals against average.
“Dylan was lighting me up, putting balls in the corner,” Galloway said.
In 2009 or 2010, Galloway, Collin and the rest of the Orange sat on the team bus in a hotel parking lot, waiting to head to the field. Kevin and Dylan played catch outside. Kevin asked his youngest son, then in high school, to play left-handed, then right. Every pass went right to Kevin’s stick.
Syracuse won national championships in 2008 and 2009. Galloway said Dylan’s stick skills were better than 90 percent of the players on the team.
Collin graduated from SU last spring when Dylan was redshirting, but growing up, the brothers learned from each other. Off-ball movement came more naturally to Dylan, and even through high school, Collin took note of his younger brother’s constant movement.
“We learned from each other. Even though he was younger than me, he just had certain abilities that I was able to learn from,” Collin said. “It’s really hard to guard him, just because if you move your head for a second, he’s going to go somewhere else.”
The nuanced understanding of the game Dylan nurtured beneath the backyard net, in family games and more formal box and field outings is now paying off handsomely for Syracuse, where Kevin has been a coach since before any of his children were born.
Dylan is shooting a perfect 5-for-5 this season.
During Friday’s game against Virginia, a crucial upset win for the Orange in overtime, Kevin addressed a loose group composed of Dylan, Kevin Rice, Derek Maltz and Matt Harris.
“The general instructions were based on us controlling the situation offensively and not making a turnover that we don’t need to make,” Kevin said. “Controlling our own destiny so to speak.”
With 1:23 remaining in overtime against the then-No. 6 Cavaliers, Dylan walked the ball inbounds and jogged to his right, behind the Cavaliers goal.
He rounded the right of the goal and found a weak spot in Virginia’s zone – an offensive two-on-one. He pinched off of the back corner of the visitors’ defense and passed to Rice, standing five yards up from the goal line, 10 yards from the cage – Rice’s “sweet spot.” He buried it to win the game.
Now, Dylan has nicer places to play than the backyard practice area constructed nearly a decade ago. He plays on more pristine turf fields like those at Manley Field House and the Carrier Dome. Still, he returns to the backyard.
On the old cage where he learned the placement and movement that helped get him to SU, he shoots.
Sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours.
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