By Pierce King | 8/18/12 11:00 AM
Every season there is a hand full of rookies who make the transition from the collegiate level to MLL and are expected to perform at a very high level. In the midst of rule changes, including a 60-second shot clock and a 2-point arch, and a league stacked with veteran talent, this can be a daunting task. Cascade MLL Rookie of the Year Matt Gibson, Ohio Machine attackman Steele Stanwick, and Denver Outlaws attackman Mark Matthews are certainly some of the more recognizable first year players around the league this season.
One name that is often overlooked is Boston Cannons midfielder Owen “Kit” Smith, who has grown accustomed to the “underdog” role.
Smith was born and raised in Brunswick, Maine where he is the eldest of Owen Smith and Jean Shaw’s three children. As a child he dreamed of playing professional sports and was a firm believer that hard work would take him there. He enjoyed playing soccer, hockey, and lacrosse at Brunswick High School but had limited success early in his career mainly due to lack of size. “My goal was to play a sport in college, but I was a bit of a late bloomer. It really wasn’t until my junior and senior years when I had some success with sports,” recalls Smith.
During those two years he grew into his current 6’2’’, 215 lb. frame and continually worked hard to reach this goal, often waking up early to run and staying late after practice to shoot. His hard work paid off as he was named to the All-American in lacrosse and was the recipient of the Travis Roy Award for hockey- recognizing the state’s top public school player. However, despite the accolades, when it came to the recruiting process Smith was overlooked by most college coaches. “I think everyone just thought I was this kid from a small public school in Maine and that I hadn’t really been tested,” said Smith.
One coach who took a chance on Smith was former Bowdoin College Head Lacrosse Coach Tom McCabe.
Smith found himself at a critical crossroad in his life: he could either leave Maine, not play lacrosse, and enjoy the laid back lifestyle that many college students have; or he could stay in his home town and tryout for the lacrosse team as a “walk on” where there was no guarantee of making the squad. “I was set against going to Bowdoin until I talked to Coach McCabe; he was willing to give me a shot.”
One shot was all he needed.
Initially he earned a spot on the roster as a backup midfielder; however, this stint did not last long as Coach McCabe and assistant coach Chris Wojcik (now Head Lacrosse Coach at Harvard) were impressed by his athleticism and sound mechanics. “I remember [Wojcik] pulling me into his office one day and said, ‘We’re going to try and get you out there and give you a chance against Tufts.’”
Like all great players, Smith rose to the occasion and in his first shift, on his first dodge, scored a goal that ignited a comeback. “It was after that game when I felt confident I could at least compete at the college level,” said Smith.
He exceeded his own expectations where after four years he left Bowdoin as one of the most decorated lacrosse players in the school’s history- compiling 79 goals, 21 assists, a three time all-NESCAC selection, and a three time All-American.
Not bad for a walk on.
After graduating from Bowdoin, Smith took a job at Hebron Academy in Hebron, Maine where he teaches algebra along with coaching lacrosse. “I originally thought it was going to be coaching that would keep me connected to the game I love. It really wasn’t until I was playing pickup when one of my friends when he urged me to attend the Boston Cannon’s open tryout with him later that month,” said Smith.
Again, Smith found himself at another crossroad: keep living his relaxed lifestyle or spend the next two months kicking himself into shape for a long shot chance at making the Cannon’s team. He decided on the latter, “I figured I had nothing to lose.”
He arrived to the open tryout in a familiar underdog role. “To be honest, we were looking to throw a bone to some local guys to be on the practice squad,” said Boston Cannons’ Head Coach Steve Duffy.
Smith had other plans in minds.
“He just blew us away. His quickness and shot allowed him to consistently make plays and his physical fitness was off the charts,” recalls Duffy. As a result, Smith was one of three players from the group of fifty to be invited to training camp.
Yet despite this praise, he still had a tough challenge ahead. If he wanted to make the 30 man active roster he would have to compete with guys like Paul Rabil, Ryan Boyle, and Matt Poskay which is hard for any rookie in the league, let alone a Division III player from the open tryout.
“When you play at a high level, you elevate your game,” said Smith. And he did just that, elevating his game all the way to the thirty man roster, the only walk on to do so.
As the season progresses Smith’s role on the team has steadily increased- most recently playing in the team’s final two pivotal games against Ohio - and the respect he’s earned from his teammates and coaching staff lead him to be named 2012 Cannon’s Rookie of the Year.
“There’s a buzz on our team [about Kit]. He’s a good person, a hard worker, and he fits right into the chemistry of the team…he’s just scratching the surface on how good he can be”, said Duffy.
While Smith may not be a household name just yet, he has certainly risen above his underdog reputation and is a promising young star in the league.
MLL will host its 2012 Championship Weekend presented by Warrior on August 25 and 26 at Harvard Stadium in Boston, Mass. It will be a battle of the top four teams and will include two semi-final games on Saturday followed by the championship game on Sunday. Tickets are available now via Ticketmaster.com. To learn more about the 2012 MLL Championship Weekend presented by Warrior click here. The games will be televised live on ESPN2.