At least among his friends, Jeremy Mattoon has earned a reputation as a guy who likes to build from the ground up when it comes to coaching.
So when a friend in the coaching fraternity called to let him know about an ad for a head coaching position on Husson University’s fledgling men’s lacrosse team, he immediately checked it out.
Five months later, Mattoon is Husson’s head coach, his team has 19 players and a 12-game schedule, and the Eagles even have their first victory.
Husson won its season opener last weekend, 14-6, over fellow NCAA Division III program Anna Maria College of Paxton, Mass.
“I was actually very surprised,” said Ben Landry, a freshman midfielder from Lewiston. “We’ve had some guys who just started playing this year and knew nothing about lacrosse before picking up a stick.”
Actually, nine of the 19 players had virtually no knowledge — let alone experience — with lacrosse before joining the team.
“I walked onto campus with an entire team of walk-ons and we’ve been together collectively for about eight weeks,” said the 37-year-old Mattoon, who played Division I lacrosse for St. Bonaventure University. “I figured if we could at least find 20 kids who are athletes, we could be competitive. We have some kids who can play.
“I don’t have words to talk about the progress this team’s made. These guys have gone beyond my expectations. They’ve taken everything I’ve thrown at them and they’ve run with it.”
Good thing, since Mattoon calls lacrosse “the fastest game on two feet.” The game features 10-man teams with each team fielding a goalie, three defensemen who can only play on their side of the field, three midfielders who can play both sides, and three attack men (forwards) who can play only on the offensive end. Players use sticks with baskets on the top end to throw and catch the ball and try to score by getting shots by the goalie and into the net.
Mattoon comes to Husson after coaching high school lacrosse at St. John’s Catholic Prep in Frederick, Md. The Corning, N.Y., native also coached the sport for five years in Germany.
“When I took over a club in Germany, the team I had was kind of known as a laughing stock, but we made it to the championships our first year,” Mattoon said. “At St. John’s, after winning one and two games the previous two seasons, we won five the next year [his first] and then won a title the second year.”
Husson was the right situation at the right level at the right time.
“It was the next step for me,” he said. “I think this is a good situation to be in. The facilities are solid, I like the vibe on the campus, and people are excited about this program.
“Two years from now, if we do things right, there’s no reason why we can’t compete at the upper level of the league. The facilities are solid, I like the vibe on the campus.”
So do his players.
“It feels really good to start something,” said midfielder Nick Brown, a freshman from Sabattus. “We’d really like to start a great tradition here and have success. It feels like I’m really part of something special.”
Husson is also fielding a women’s varsity lacrosse team, which starts its season with a home game against Becker College on Sunday.
Like Landry, Brown has a solid lacrosse background. Landry was recruited by a few in-state schools, but chose to come to Bangor because of Husson’s pharmacy program.
“I knew there would be at least some type of team, but I didn’t know if it’d be club or varsity,” Landry said. “A bunch of guys signed up when we didn’t even have a coach yet.”
In trying to explain Husson’s unexpectedly strong start, Landry and Mattoon point to the rapid development of guys like goalie Matt Linnell, a freshman from Fairfield.
“We have a goalie who’s never played lacrosse before our first game and he’s a natural,” said Mattoon. “To use the words ‘pleasantly surprised’ would be an understatement.”
Linnell saved 13 of 19 shots in his debut.
“I’ve never even touched a lacrosse stick. I think I’ve seen about five minutes of a game here and there,” Linnell said. “I was a little nervous at first, but just fell into it.”
The team, which has gone from 26 to 19 players in 10 weeks, is playing with even more confidence after winning its debut.
“They have an extreme willingness to listen and try to learn and work hard. I don’t know if it has to do with Maine people in general, but these kids work hard,” Mattoon said. “These guys take whatever I give them or demand from them and do it.
“They work their butts off. They’re blue collar to the core.”