September 6, 2012

Rob Pannell In His Own Words: Part III – The Personality

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Rob Pannell recognizes Cornell's proud lacrosse tradition while trying to make a name for himself and the 2013 version of the Big Red.
© Lee Weissman

* Part I – The Journey | Part II  – The Injury
* Photo Gallery: Career in Images
* Forman: How Do You Measure 'The Red Mamba'?

Who is Rob Pannell the person, behind Rob Pannell the player? In search of the answer to that question and more, Lacrosse Magazine's Matt Forman spent two days with Pannell at his home on Long Island in Smithtown, N.Y., in late July as he awaited a decision from the Ivy League on his fifth year of eligibility. What quickly became apparent is that Pannell needed his own platform, to tell his own story. To tell us everything in uncensored, stream-of-consciousness reflections.

Pannell's career has been a winding road, one which Pannell has chronicled in his own words in the September issue of Lacrosse Magazine and over the last two days on LaxMagazine.com. He took us through the twists and turns — the recruiting snubs, the college commitments (plural), the post-grad experience at Deerfield Academy, the freshman season in which he was one fluky flip in Foxborough away from a national championship, a Tewaaraton-caliber season overshadowed by Steele Stanwick's title run, and the season-ending injury that left more questions than answers — that have defined the career of arguably the best attackman of his generation.

Part I and Part II ran Tuesday and Wednesday. Part III below addresses Pannell's big aspirations for his fifth and final season at Cornell and the personality that drives him to be great.

Do you still have unachieved goals, and feel your resume isn't complete?

Yes. I want a national championship, probably more than anybody in the world. That's about it. On an individual basis, I feel I've proven myself.

What about the Cornell all-time points record or the Tewaaraton Award?

It's definitely in the back of my mind. I would love to win Attackman of the Year, for a third year. Not many people have done that before, with the exception of Mikey Powell, who did it four times. But the Tewaaraton — if I win it or not — is not going to define my career. I would like to be the all-time points leader at Cornell. That would be cool. I'm not far away. Eamon McEneaney is one player I've been compared to, and I'm four points away from tying him. That game, I'll definitely go into the net and grab that ball that breaks his record, because he's looked at as one of the best players ever. He's a hero. I have tremendous respect for him, even though I never met him. It would really be an honor to pass him, and humbling, knowing the player he was. Mike French is at 296, so I'm 44 away from him. We'll see. I'd like to hit the 300 mark. A good ways away is the all-time record. We'll worry about that if we get to that point.

You seem to really connect with Cornell's lacrosse history?

Going into Cornell, I really didn't know much about who had been there, or who had what records. None of that was on my mind; it was me trying to find the best fit. But once I got there and learned about and embraced the rich lacrosse history. The tradition Cornell has, it made my experience at Cornell that much more special and unique. You hear the names Eamon McEneaney and Mike French and Tim Goldstein — those three guys on attack are looked at as Cornell's best players of all-time. It was very humbling, listening to how alumni speak about Eamon McEneaney, or Richie Moran speak about him, or teammates of his speak about the kind of competitor he was. Comparing me to Eamon McEneaney, saying, "You remind me of the way Eamon McEneaney played," that's got to be one of the biggest compliments anybody could ever give you as an attackman. It's quite humbling, knowing who Eamon McEneaney is, what he did, the player he was and more importantly the type of person he was. Very impressive. It's humbling to me. It made me want to work harder. It made me want to be more like Eamon McEneaney. It's an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence of them, let alone be compared to the players that they were. It's awesome, coming in touch with those alumni and hearing first-hand about the program's tradition. It was truly a special experience.

You became close with Max Seibald too?

Max became a mentor of mine. Max is one of my closest friends. He's great to me. He's kind of like a big brother to me. He treats me very well. When I got to Cornell, I was kind of told, "Watch Max. Look up to him. We see you as him in four years." Everything he did, I wanted to do. I watched his every move, how he handled himself in all situations — with the team, in the locker room, in post-game press conferences. He was a big role model of mine. He was a tireless worker. Off the field, away from practice, he was always the hardest worker. That's what I strived to be. I wanted to be compared to Max Seibald. I wanted to be the Max Seibald of the future. I'm very lucky to have had someone like Max to look up to, and to have as a role model. Not everybody has that.

Historically, who have been your biggest influences?

I was a huge Virginia fan growing up, and Virginia was my dream school. I always watched Conor Gill play, and he was an unbelievable feeder. He impressed me so much, watching him in the final four. The things he did, the plays he made. I watched Ryan Boyle, Mark Millon in the MLL growing up. Just the attackmen that you think of, the all-time greats, those were the guys I always watched on TV. I wanted to be like them, trying to do things they did. That was the start of my career.

Recent history of players going back for fifth year is mixed. Do you realize that?

It's tough. I don't know how my foot is going to be. I don't know how it's going to hold up throughout a whole season. I don't know if I'm going to get another injury. Trust me, I think about it. Everyone has big expectations for me, and I've got bigger expectations for myself. Everyone knows I'm coming back and says, "Oh, you know you're going to do this and that this year." It's a lot of pressure. But I love the pressure. I'm up for the challenge.

What would get in your way of winning a national championship?

Having experienced all different types of seasons — losing in the championship, semifinals and quarterfinals, winning and losing Ivy League championships, not making the playoffs — I know what it takes. I know the attitude and effort it takes, from a whole team, collectively. Nothing is stopping me from opening my mouth in practice at this point, from throwing people out for doing the wrong thing, or making an example of someone, for being that guy in practice who will call you out, and making sure things are done the right way. Things need to be done the right way in order to achieve success.

Gut-wrenching experience to lose in national championship game as a freshman?

If we win that national championship, I do not have the career that I have had. I possibly could have become satisfied. Maybe I just go in cruise control until I graduate because I have that ring. Thinking you're going to win a national championship one second and losing it literally the next second, you experience a whirlwind of emotions. It fueled me for the years to come, saying, "I need to get back there. I have to get back there." Constantly. Every day, somehow that game pops into my head one way or another. Obviously I would want to win the national championship. I want that win more than anything in the world. But it not happening allowed me to continue be self-driven and self-motivated.

Can you believe that game happened?

I can't believe it. No. I try not to think about it. I still haven't watched the game, and I probably won't ever watch it, unless it came to the point where in this upcoming season I was playing in the championship the next day, I would watch it that night to remind myself what it felt like. I would promise myself that I would not let it happen over again. Maybe I would show my kids one day. But I have no use to watch that game. I lived it. Watching it again would be too painful.

Funny how everyone made 2011 and 2012 "Rob Pannell vs. Steele Stanwick" seasons?

It was funny. People hyped it up to be more than it needed to be. People like to make something out of nothing — the drama, the storylines. It was funny the way it worked out. It wasn't really a Steele Stanwick vs. Rob Pannell battle. It was Rob Pannell is out; Steele Stanwick is playing. I'm not surprised people did it the way they did. It was fun though. Steele and I are very friendly, and he deserved the Tewaaraton.

How anxious are you to show everybody you're still Rob Pannell?

I feel bad for whatever team gets in my way next year — just kidding. [Laughs.] But seriously, getting injured made me that much more hungry. Playing lacrosse is my favorite thing to do. And I'm the most competitive person I know. Whether it's a game of checkers, Scrabble, playing nine holes on the golf course or playing lacrosse, I want to win in everything I do. That attitude — wanting to be the best at everything — drives me. My first game in February next year can't come soon enough.

Can anyone stop Rob Pannell?

You have to be confident in yourself. It's a key to being successful. Not being cocky or arrogant, it's a confidence that comes with hard work and knowing you've been there before, and no one can get in your way.

- Cornell fifth-year attackman Rob Pannell

If there was no goalie, I would score every time. [Laughs.] In practice coach DeLuca throws a double- triple-team at me. I've seen it all. When it doesn't work for coach DeLuca in practice, it frustrates the hell out of him. And I just smile.

How would you defend Rob Pannell?

I don't want to tell you this, because people would try to do it. But here's how I would cover Rob Pannell: I'd put a short-stick on him, not lock him off, play him straight-up, and with no slide. [Smiles.]

Who's given you the toughest cover in your career?

Chad Wiedmaier and Tyler Fiorito from Princeton. As tough and challenging as it is to get by Chad Wiedmaier, when you do beat him you still have to get by Tyler Fiorito, and that's no easy task. Tyler Fiorito is the best goalie I've ever played against. Chad Wiedmaier was the best individual defenseman I played against. That combination was quite deadly.

Are you cocky or confident?

Not cocky, just extremely confident, due to how hard I've worked over the years. You have to be confident in yourself. It's a key to being successful. Every time I walk onto a field, I know I'm the best player. Not being cocky or arrogant, it's a confidence that comes with hard work and knowing you've been there before, and no one can get in your way. When my defenseman puts his stick on my gloves before the opening faceoff, I move over to get away, and he does it again. I just laugh and tell him, 'You're in for a long day.' It has nothing to do with being cocky. That's just confidence.

How much do you dislike losing?

It's beyond hatred. I can't stand it. I despise losing. I'm human, and I realize everyone loses at things. But I do whatever I can, in my power, to not lose. I never want to lose. Losing haunts me.

What are your long-term aspirations?

I want to stay in the game, and be involved, as much as possible. I would love to play for Team USA. That's been one of my biggest goals since I was younger. I want to do everything I can to make that happen. It would be great to play for [Team USA assistant coach Jeff] Tambroni again. It's nice to have the potential to play in the MLL and NLL. I want to grow the game, but I want to continue playing.

How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be remembered as Rob Pannell: One of the best, if not the best, attackmen to ever play the game. I want to be remembered as the kid that almost didn't play at a high level, and was very under-recruited. I want to be a lesson for the future of lacrosse, for kids and for coaches. For kids to work hard, and for coaches to know there are kids out there who mature later. There could be another Rob Pannell out there that goes under-the-radar. I want there to be a spot left in every coach's recruiting class called "The Rob Pannell" spot. But I don't people to forget my journey was a unique one. It can't be compared to anybody else's.


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