USA TODAY High School Sports presents the 2016-17 American Family Insurance ALL-USA Boys Lacrosse Team. The team and honorees were selected by Casey Vock of 3dRising.com based on performance, level of play and strength of schedule.
Coach of the Year: Bryan Kelly, Calvert Hall (Baltimore)
Team of the Year: Culver Academy (Culver, Ind.)
Name: Justin Shockey
School: Landon School (Bethesda, Md.)
For all of his strength and athleticism, Justin Shockey knows his battle is mostly a mental one.
A 6-foot, 190-pound bruising workhorse and the nation’s most respected face-off prospect, Shockey appears to have a physical advantage over most of his opponents from the start.
But a master of his craft, the star from the Landon School in Bethesda, Md., understands that the mental preparation before the scrap is where it’s won or lost.
“For me, the mental thing is huge,” said Shockey, who won 79.3 percent of his faces to fuel Landon to a 21-0 record, the program’s 31st IAC championship and No. 2 ranking in the final Super 25.
“You may be having a great year, but it’s really more about taking every face-off like it’s a brand new game. You can’t just rest on the fact you’ve been winning. That’s my motto: the next face-off is a new face-off. And that’s helped me stay grounded during games and throughout the season.”
This year’s American Family Insurance Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year, Shockey is quick to credit others for contributing to his success: he routinely trains with the likes of University of Maryland assistant and professional face-off guru Chris Mattes, as well as Conor Cassidy, a Landon and Johns Hopkins alumnus who works on the Bears staff.
“Those guys really did a lot for me as mentors,” Shockey said. “I have to credit them for my success, along with great wing play with (LSM/defender) Andrew Fowler and John Geppert and Zach Johnson, two middies who played big and really helped me out a lot.”
He also credited his fellow face-off men on the Landon roster, whom he said served as excellent scouts each week, taking on the role of his upcoming opponent as he worked with coaches to devise strategies and backup plans.
Shockey’s coaches, on the other hand, tend to put more of the credit on the athlete himself, pointing to his 197 ground balls as proof of his warrior-like work ethic. He added 14 goals and 10 assists and a threat to create instant offense after a face-off win.
“He is the single most dominating high school lacrosse player that I have seen in my 13 years as a coach,” said Landon assistant coach J.R. Bordley. “He truly gave us a psychological advantage over our opponents.”
That psychological edge translated to a dauntingly lopsided possession margin that allowed the Bears to produce more than 13 goals per game.
And, while he’s dedicated to the art and is already being billed as the next great one at the position, Shockey tends to take an unconventional approach in the offseason. A gifted kayaker in his free time, he stays in the gym, but he takes short breaks from lacrosse to help keep his head clear and retain his ability to focus when it comes time to grind at the X.
Shockey learned the importance of this himself after not performing as well as he’d hoped at a past summer tournament, responding by finding ways to hit his own reset button and returning to the face-off circle mentally recharged.
It all comes back, he said, to not letting himself become consumed only with the individual fight at the center of the field.
“There’s the battle between you and your opponent, and that might be hyped up, but you need to be worried about your team’s outcome,” Shockey said. “I could lose the clamp and then get all upset about getting beat. Or I could worry about how to respond to that and make sure I’m not giving up breaks and worry about what my team is doing.”
Ending his career as one of the all-time greats in Landon history, and embarking on what many believe will be an equally memorable college career at the U.S. Naval Academy, Shockey hopes that young up-and-coming players will seek balance within their pursuit to dominate the draws as he has.
“There are a lot of these guys that practice all the time, going to face-off clinics and draw days and worrying about getting their reps. They need to look at the bigger picture of lacrosse as a game and know it’s about the team.”