May 15, 2012

Rossi Happy to Be a Cog in the Salisbury Machine

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

His father taught him from a very young age that getting ground balls was a critical aspect of being a lacrosse player and now Dean Rossi (above) has parlayed that knowledge into being one of the best short-stick defensive midfielders in the country.
© Salisbury Sports Information

Are you willing to be anonymous? Are you willing to be a cog in the machine; a nameless, faceless cyborg doing all of the dirty work that the other pretty boys can't do?

When Dean Rossi first arrived at Salisbury, he certainly wasn't. Coming out of Pleasantville (N.Y.) High School, Rossi had dreams of being the next big thing in the midfield, following the long line of Sea Gulls who had flourished at the position.

Rossi gave it a shot his first two years. He toiled on the bottom half of the depth chart, searching for that one opportunity to make a name for himself. Then Rossi started taking a closer look at Will Poletis, the Gulls top defensive middie who seemed to be racking up a bunch of goals along the way.

The lightbulb went on.

"Once guys get to college, they want to play," said Salisbury head coach Jim Berkman. "It doesn't matter if it's at Salisbury because it happens everywhere. You pick your poison. Do you want to be thick-headed and not play while you're on the fourth or fifth line or do you want to play defense and get some offensive opportunities in transition? Most kids embrace the fact that they want to contribute."

Berkman saw the size – Rossi runs 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds – and athletic ability, prompting him to proselytize about being a d-middie.

"The way he brought it up to me, it was a spot up for grabs and I saw how much how much Will Poletis played and was scoring goals," said Rossi of Berkman's overtures. "I was a little hesitant, but once I got to learn the position and saw how much you play all over the field and how important it was, I was OK with it."

Rossi was scheduled to be the Gulls lockdown shorty in 2010, but a broken wrist suffered in the preseason that required surgery shelved him for the entire season, triggering a redshirt year. Knowing his potential, Berkman kept coaching up Rossi on the sidelines, and he traveled with the team for all of the games.

That summer Rossi hit the weight room hard and, like the rest of the Salisbury players who were stinging from their loss in the national championship game to Tufts, did anything he could to get better. When he returned to the Eastern Shore, he epitomized what Berkman wanted in a defensive middie.

"It's just people who are tough, hard-nosed guys who have to be pretty quick, too," Berkman said. "Strength helps, too. With Dean's size, it's like playing with another close defenseman, because he's a beast in the weight room. They also have to be able to get the ball off the ground. Ground ball play is huge for a d-middie. He's embraced the whole thing and has been a tremendous leader for us."

Being a ground ball hog is something that Rossi particularly prides himself.

"When I was young, my father always said, 'Keep the ball off the ground,'" said Rossi. "That's the work that someone doesn't notice as much as scoring a goal, but anyone who knows about lacrosse knows that ground balls are important. You've got to get every possession you can get and fight for every ground ball. Ever since I was young, I always wanted to get the ball. Anyway I can help out, if it's going in and cleaning a ball or defending a player, that's what I was going to do."

Every once in a while, Rossi still gets to show his offensive capabilities. Last year, he had a stretch of four games in the middle of the season where he scored a goal and he finished with five markers and two assists. The offensive numbers are down a little bit this spring, as Rossi has been hampered by the healing process from a broken ankle suffered at the end of the '11 season, but he still keeps an eye on the offensive end.

"When I get that ball off the ground, my first instinct is to break up the field and get it going," Rossi said. "Especially with our style of play, our d-middies are a lot more well-rounded than other team's. All of our d-middies played offense, so coach trusts us to handle the ball and he tells us to push the break. He says we're not just here to play defense; we're here to be an athlete."

His coach's thoughts on his d-middies lingering on the attack end of the field?

"Any d-middie takes shots that you're not real crazy about," Berkman said. "You have to live with that a little bit, I think."

Berkman knows that when he finally comes off the field, Rossi will be ready to resume his role as just another cog in the machine.


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