The Panthers are 9-0 on the season, and their faceoff specialist is a big reason why.
The FOGO. It stands for Face Off, Get Off. And on the boys’ lacrosse field, it’s arguably the most important position there is.
The Central York Panthers have one of the best in the state. And make no mistake, Kollin Vaught fits the description of the prototypical FOGO.
Standing at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, he’s built like a fire hydrant: Compact, low to the ground, with good leverage. He has fast hands and fast feet, with quickness and athleticism in his arsenal.
“An above-average faceoff guy can be a difference maker," York Suburban head coach Luke Beam said. "And he’s well above that.”
On the field, he's emblematic of a runaway freight train.
Last week against Susquehannock, the hard-charging Vaught received a penalty and was momentarily relegated to the sideline. During his time away from the field, Vaught was seen barking at his team, the official scorers, and the referee who blew the whistle.
Later in the first half, he received another penalty when, after losing a faceoff, he let the opposition know about it with a hard hit.
“When I send him my pregame text I always tell him: You want to be a captain, you want to act like a captain, you want to be a leader. And you’ve got to keep your emotions in check,” said Jereme Vaught, Kollin’s father. “You have to respect the other team, you have to respect the coaches and you have to respect the refs. Every game is not going to go your way.”
Yes, Vaught is a tough player competing in a tough sport. He’s also somewhat rough around the edges. Not that he’s apologizing for such a character trait.
“Lacrosse is a mental-tough game, it’s also a physical-tough game,” he said, a swagger in his step after leaving the locker room following the Panthers’ 19-9 win over Susquehannock last week. “Playing faceoff, being a FOGO specialist, and being a big guy like me, you’ve got to have that.”
Jereme said teams are coming after his son, simply because he’s the Panthers’ firestarter. That puts a target on Kollin’s back. Susquehannock, for instance, sent three or four players into the faceoff circle, all with varying styles, to try and neutralize Central York’s star FOGO.
“He has a tendency to get pissed when they start beating on him. If they’re not playing him straight up, then he gets to shove them a little bit,” Jereme said. “He’s usually good for one or two penalties a game. And usually he’ll check somebody to let them know.”
Critical piece to undefeated team
Vaught’s importance to the Panthers, however, cannot be understated. That can be said for any quality FOGO playing on a successful lacrosse team.
The YAIAA has a handful of good ones: Red Lion’s Mason Gauntt is outstanding, and Vaught was quick to credit York Catholic’s Drew Snelbaker as being one of his tougher challenges in league.
Would the Panthers sit at 9-0 this season and seem to be the team to beat in the YAIAA without Vaught? In short, the answer appears to be no.
“Obviously them being undefeated, it had a lot to do with their faceoff/middie and him going 14-for-14 (on faceoffs) in a lot of his games,” said Susquehannock faceoff man Ben Wilson. “I think we just tried not to let him go forward. That was the main focus.
“He’s got a strong, quick clamp. And from there, he can go wherever he wants to. He spins well, can read his middies well. He knows where to put the ball.”
Lacrosse faceoffs occur at the beginning of each quarter and after goals. On the season, Vaught is winning draws at over a 75-percent clip.
After winning a faceoff, Vaught will periodically keep the ball and try to create offense — either by finding a teammate or unleashing a shot of his own. In the open field he doesn't shy away from contact, and at times can simply look to run over an opposing player standing in his path.
Often, however, he wins a draw, and Central takes possession. Vaught is then substituted out as the Panthers take over on offense.
Susquehannock coach Russ LeBlanc said preparing for the Panthers typically starts with trying to slow down the junior FOGO.
“When he dominates there, they score. Then they get to line up and win it again,” LeBlanc said. “They can really demoralize a team.”
During an early-season 9-7 win over York Suburban, the Panthers controlled faceoffs – and time of possession. A close victory followed suit.
Beam, Suburban's coach, said he could have used more resources in an attempt to counteract Vaught, but that the results would have largely been the same.
“Lacrosse is a game of runs,” Beam pointed out. “It’s very difficult to string three, four goals in a row when you’re starting every possession on defense."
Central York head coach Thomas Mayne equated the faceoff element to pickup basketball.
“You make a basket, you get the ball back,” Mayne said. “Having him at the faceoff — it’s kind of make-it, take-it for us.”
Product of hard work
Jereme Vaught said Kollin began playing lacrosse when he was 9 years old, and he started honing his craft in the faceoff circle at around 13 or 14.
Vaught began working with Rock Lacrosse Club last year in Baltimore.
“I think this past summer at Rock, it took him to another level,” Jereme said.
Vaught also linked up with Fast Break U, which is in partnership with Rock. There, he focused on and fine-tuned his faceoff skills against some of the nation’s best, according to Fast Break U coach Jeremy Rualo Sr.
Rualo Sr. said the technical expertise, along with going against pro and college lacrosse players, has allowed Vaught to elevate his game even further.
Rualo Sr. added that Vaught’s ability as a multi-sport athlete – he’s also a starting inside linebacker for the Central York football team – has helped him both as a FOGO and as a college lacrosse prospect.
“Work ethic is part and parcel of wanting to get up, come down and do that training with us. Sometimes those varsity workouts are 7 a.m. on the weekends. He’s making it a point to get to those,” Rualo Sr. said. “He’s cramming that in with the other activities he’s in and the other sports he’s in. That speaks volumes.”
That hard work has put Vaught in position to land a Division I scholarship. After initially verbally committing the Cleveland State, Vaught recently flipped his commitment to University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).
“Kollin loves work in general. And he loves lacrosse. He’d do it the rest of his life if he could,” said Vaught’s mother, Meredith. “There were days it was raining outside and he goes out and shoots and does hand drills. Three hours at a time he's out there.”
Vaught’s just a junior. He has another year left in him at Central, and another four at a Division I university. Don’t expect this train to slow down.
If anything, it's just picking up steam.