How Notre Dame's Duo Adapted to Each Other, New Faceoff Rules


Notre Dame faceoff men Charlie Leonard (left) and Kyle Gallagher (right) both were selected in the PLL draft.

In South Bend, they call it “egoless clarity.”

It’s a nod to author Jim Collins and his best-selling book, “Good to Great,” which illustrates how the most successful companies crystalize around a Hedgehog Concept — a core understanding of what they’re passionate about, what they can be the best in the world at and what drives their economic engine.

“Every company would like to be the best at something, but few actually understand — with piercing insight and egoless clarity — what they actually have the potential to be the best at,” Collins writes, “and just as important, what they cannot be the best at.”

If you listen long enough to people who have come out of the Notre Dame men’s lacrosse program, you’ll inevitably hear those two words. Former All-American goalie Scott Rodgers — who famously backed up John Kemp for three seasons before leading the Fighting Irish to the national championship game in 2010 — summoned them in a fiery speech to college prospects in 2017.

“If you have egoless clarity, you will be able to look at yourself in the mirror, and say, ‘I am not that good,’” he said. “The guy who can do that after every season, reevaluate and say, ‘I am not that good. This is what I need to change to get better,’ will be the best player in the country or in the world.’”

For Notre Dame faceoff specialist Charlie Leonard, the words were easier to say than embody. When he heard last summer that the Fighting Irish picked up Kyle Gallagher, a two-time All-American at Penn, in the transfer portal, Leonard allowed himself to sulk for a second. Then he got to work.

“It wasn’t easy at first,” Leonard said. “Notre Dame hasn’t been known as really a faceoff school. That’s where we’ve struggled. I came in as an LSM and I converted to a faceoff guy. I took draws with my pole, but it’s a lot different once you become a FOGO. Having a second person in there that’s equal or better than me pushes me to the next level. We want to be the team that’s playing in the last game Memorial Day weekend. To do that, you need to have great competitors.”

It was an offseason full of adjustments for both Gallagher and Leonard. Less than a month after Gallagher told Notre Dame he wanted to use his extra year of eligibility in South Bend, the NCAA men’s lacrosse committee unveiled rules changes banning the motorcycle grip and requiring faceoffs to be contested from a standing position. Moreover, Gallagher left behind the certainty that he would take every faceoff as he did for Penn in 2020.

“We’re both competitors,” Gallagher said. “We both want to take the most amount of reps we can possibly get. Egoless clarity. What’s best for the team.”

Nearly a year later, Notre Dame will play Maryland in the NCAA quarterfinals Sunday as the predetermined host. Gallagher (102-for-165, 61.8 percent) and Leonard (68-for-109, 62.4 percent) each has factored prominently in the sixth-seeded Fighting Irish’s success. Both were selected in the Premier Lacrosse League draft, Gallagher in the second round (14th overall pick by Chaos LC) and Leonard in the fourth round (32nd overall pick by Redwoods LC).

As it turned out, the new “SNG” (standing neutral grip) approach to faceoffs put a premium on variety. While pinch-and-pop specialists like Gallagher are still the masters of the craft, counter artists like Leonard have proven to be just as valuable.

“I’m a little different than Gal. I have four or five moves that I like to do,” said Leonard, whose arsenal includes a variety of rakes and clamps. “But I’m doing them all from the same grip, so the guy doesn’t know what’s coming. I like to put the guy’s mind into a blender.”

Gallagher and Leonard were better suited than most specialists to adapt to the new rules.

Gallagher was part of a cohort of Long Island natives who used each other as lab rats. A group of college players that experimented with the SNG approach last summer included Penn State’s Gerard Arceri and Duke’s Jake Naso, among others.

Leonard had already navigated successfully a similar transition when he switched from facing off with a long pole to a short stick.

Switching to SNG, you may at first experience soreness in your forearm and on the inside of your right palm. “Those are really underdeveloped muscles,” Gallagher said.

Notre Dame’s strength and conditioning staff had the faceoff specialists do forearm and grip exercises with a sledgehammer — gripping it near the head and doing short repeated rotations in pronated and supinated positions. Rows and pushups also help.

In addition to strengthening your wrists, Leonard suggested adding knee stability and ankle flexion work into your routine.

Maryland has made a habit of neutralizing superior faceoff specialists in the NCAA tournament, most recently riding Justin Shockey’s hot hand to a first-round win over Tommy Burke and Vermont. But the Terps will have two stalwarts to go through Sunday.

Notre Dame gets elite wing play from short sticks Ryan Hallenbeck and Danny Cassidy and long pole Jose Boyer. But Gallagher and Leonard are the ones who really tilt the field for the Fighting Irish. According to Lacrosse Reference, Notre Dame ranks eighth nationally in time of possession.

“Having Gal here has pushed our entire faceoff unit to reach their best. I love having him,” Leonard said during a joint Zoom interview earlier this spring. “It was a shock, but after talking to coach [Kevin Corrigan], that’s what we needed. We needed another guy that could help us get us to that next level. I’m so happy that Gal came. Honestly looking back on it, I wouldn’t change a thing. He’s a great guy, a great teammate and a great brother to have.”

Gallagher smiled humbly.

“Appreciate that, Charlie.”

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