Master of the lacrosse universe PAUL RABIL is aiming to expand his sport's reach
At 6′3″ and 220 pounds, Paul Rabil is built like a tank and clearly looks like he's some type of athlete.
"Are you a runner?" asks the woman taking his order at a Baltimore sandwich shop.
"Lacrosse," Rabil replies.
But Rabil is not just any lacrosse player. In his modesty, the 27-year-old midfielder for the Philadelphia Wings and Boston Cannons neglects to mention that he once set the world record for fastest shot (111 miles per hour); that last season he broke the Major League Lacrosse single-season scoring record with 72 points; and that he's the sport's premier superstar.
Even though Rabil is the face of lacrosse — the fastest-growing sport in America — he is still relatively unknown in the public eye. But that's changing. He is redefining what it means to be a professional lacrosse player.
SIMPLY THE BEST
Rabil grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland, about an hour from the lacrosse hotbed of Baltimore. He first picked up a lacrosse stick at age 12 when a neighbor gave him a spare to try out. The sport did not come naturally. "My first game, I took a shot and the ball fell out backward," he remembers. "Everybody was like, 'Hey, where's the ball?' It's so humiliating when you're that age."
He considered giving up, but his parents wouldn't let him. After putting in a lot of hard work and training, Rabil developed his wicked shot and grew into a star at DeMatha Catholic High School and then at Johns Hopkins University. At Hopkins he was a three-time first-team All-America and a national champion. "As soon as we watched him play, it wasn't hard to realize how gifted he was," says Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala. "You could see the desire."
After graduating in 2008, Rabil was selected first overall in the MLL draft by the Cannons and second overall by the Washington Stealth in the indoor National Lacrosse League. (He joined Philadelphia in 2012.) Over five years, Rabil has won MLL and NLL championship, been awarded two MLL MVPs, been selected to five MLL and three NLL All-Star teams, and was named MVP of the 2010 Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship.
"He's a beast," says U.S. Lacrosse president and CEO Steve Stenersen. "He's a physical specimen and he works his tail off to maintain that level of fitness, and I think he just has an incredible commitment to be a world-class athlete."
LAX IS LIFE
Rabil is unquestionably the most talented and successful player of his generation — perhaps of all time. But his on-field accomplishments are only part of his impact. He's also a pioneer in that he has made a full-time career from lacrosse, something previously unheard of in a sport where pros usually need to find other jobs in the off-season to make ends meet.
Rabil competes in two pro leagues, has endorsement deals with companies such as Red Bull and New Balance, and runs camps and clinics for kids. Even though he is the sport's first million-dollar player, money isn't everything. He meets kids and signs autographs after every game, win or lose. And he works with groups such as Baltimore's Charm City Lacrosse League to introduce the game to kids who might otherwise not encounter it. This has turned Rabil into a folk hero. Kids who follow lacrosse love him, and others pick up the game because they saw him play. "He's a really good role model and a really good player," says Alex, a 14-year-old fan from Maryland. "He's really inspiring."
SEEING IS BELIEVING
Rabil's popularity extends far and wide. He has the largest social media presence in the sport, and even New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is a fan. Like any great athlete, Rabil also has hecklers. He hears them when he plays and when he checks his Facebook page and Twitter timeline. But even those people have a role in his plan to expand the reach of lacrosse. "If someone doesn't like the way I look or the way I play, they'll say it, but they're still looking. That's important," he says. "From my standpoint, it's all about how many eyeballs you can get."
A lot more people are giving lacrosse a look these days, which means a lot more people are seeing Paul Rabil, master of the lacrosse universe. There's little doubt that his days of going unrecognized in sandwich shops are numbered.