Before Tewaaraton finalist TD Ierlan started shattering NCAA lacrosse faceoff records, he was a New York high school state champion wrestler. And he’s far from the only FOGO with a singlet stashed away somewhere, just waiting to make an appearance at the next lacrosse team barbeque.

Brendan Fowler, who plays for the Premier Lacrosse League’s Chrome LC and was a member of the 2018 U.S. training team, wrestled at Duke as a post-grad.

Max Adler, the new face of Major League Lacrosse’s Denver Outlaws franchise, only started playing lacrosse as a senior in high school as an alternative to wrestling, for which he was recruited.

Gerard Arceri, Greg Gurenlian, the Massa brothers — go down the line of notable faceoff specialists, and you’ll find many of them spent the winters of their youth grappling on mats before opting for the sun and turf of lacrosse.

“Anytime you have a program, and they say, ‘Hey, we don’t have any good faceoff kids,’ I’ll say, ‘OK, how many kids here wrestle?’” says Gurenlian, a two-time U.S. team member who played for the PLL’s Redwoods last summer before retiring. “Three will raise their hands. ‘OK, you three come with me. I give it a month and you’ll be good at faceoffs.’”

Gurenlian explained five principles that translate between the two sports.

Photo by Matt Furman

Positioning

In wrestling, you start in either neutral position (standing facing each other) or in referee’s position (one wrestler with hands and knees on mat; the other on top, behind and in control). In lacrosse, faceoff men have either a knee-down stance or a standing neutral-grip stance.

Movement

Both situations require a low center of gravity with the ability to rotate your body rapidly.

Weight displacement

“The biggest thing is to transfer your weight from your hands to your feet, which allows you to spin around somebody and beat them to the play,” Gurenlian says. “Most kids who haven’t wrestled might fall to their knee and hurry themselves up. A wrestler is used to changing his weight and dispositioning it. Going clockwise, putting your weight on your hands and throwing your feet behind you, that’s the quintessential motion of a wrestler displacing weight back and forth between his hands and feet.”

Alignment

Gurenlian uses the phrase, “Dominate the column.” The column is an imaginary pole that goes from the ball straight up to the sky. To dominate the column is to get your helmet over the top of the ball so that every ounce of you is applying pressure if you’re caught in a 50-50 lockup. Helmet low, butt up. 

Instinct

Wrestlers are trained to react quickly to external stimuli — a central nervous system function that serves them exceedingly well on faceoffs.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 print edition of US Lacrosse Magazine, an exclusive benefit for US Lacrosse members. We appreciate the support of our nonprofit organization through these challenging times by a making a donation or joining/renewing your membership with US Lacrosse. We look forward to continuing to share new and useful resources with the lacrosse community.