by Elizabeth Cozart
Duke rookie longstick CJ Costabile describes himself as a bit of an “oddball.” He says he’s “happy,” “spontaneous,” and “loyal.” What he doesn’t say is that he’s also friendly, polite and personable.
But put him on the field and CJ becomes somewhat less concerned about the feelings of others. As a player, he describes himself as “persistent, “versatile,” “smart,” and “hungry,” adding that what he likes most is separating an opponent from the ball.
“I like defense the most,” says the 19-year old from New Fairfield, CT, “especially taking the ball away. I’m almost starting to feel like it’s a lost art. It’s awesome to check someone and knock the ball away. It sort of demoralizes the other guy.”
CJ stops, recognizing that his last statement might be misunderstood.
“I mean that sometimes playing defense means making the most of my athleticism,” he continues. “And the way we play defense at Duke is a team defense. Everybody’s gotta be on the same page and that was instilled early on.”
From the beginning of the school year, CJ says, the Duke defense spent time together, doing things together outside of practice that will bring them closer on the field. Bowling and skeet shooting were particular favorites, he says. Video games, too. Current Duke lacrosse team choices include Halo, NHL 2009, and the UFC demo.
Teamwork and unity are clearly things that are important to CJ’s life and his game. He says that while winning the MVP trophy at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in May was a real thrill, the highlight of his rookie season was a moment in practice.
“One day I made a suggestion in practice to Coach Gabs (Duke assistant coach Chris Gabrielli) and he said ‘that works.’ That was really cool. It felt like I was learning and he was trusting me.”
CJ says that his teammates never frowned on him for being a freshman and he was sure that the squad had faith that he could get the job done.
“At the UNC game in the tournament,” he says of the final game which Duke won 15-13, largely on the strength of CJ’s explosive three-goal hat trick, “when Ned (Crotty) fed me the ball, he trusted that I could get the job done. It’s a progression. You build the trust in the other guys and they’ll believe in you, too.”
Summer camps were a big factor in his development, CJ says. He calls them “hugely important.”
“Without them I probably wouldn’t be here,” he said, referring to his spot on the Duke team. He points out that his hometown is hardly the center of the lacrosse universe.
“Coming from New Fairfield, which isn’t a hotbed of lacrosse,” he says, “no D1 coaches come and recruit. The camps are where you get seen.”
He advises young players who are interested in exposure to choose a camp that will both teach and give them plenty of opportunity to play.
“And go to the ones where you know the coaches will be,” he says. “Another great thing to do is go to camps that schools run. For example, if you want to play at Duke, go to a Duke camp so that the coaches can see you.”
CJ also got a lot of exposure at last year’s U-19 world championships, where the US won the gold medal at the games held in Coquitlan, in British Columbia. The US team has never lost a U-19 game.
“It was awesome to be able to represent the country,” he says. Again stressing the concept of teamwork, CJ tells of a story in which a player from West Point who had been injured and unable to play came to speak to the American squad.
“He talked to us about about missing the game and representing his country, the camaraderie, how he wishes he could fight side by side with his comrades, almost in service to his country. That was cool.”
Of his freshman year at Duke, CJ says that classroom demands have been one of his biggest adjustments.
“The hardest thing to deal with has been the academics at such a high level, maintaining that while still playing lacrosse,” he said.
Of the biggest influences in his life, CJ says it’s his parents. One or both of them have come to every Duke game this season and he says that “without them I wouldn’t I have been able to develop into the person I have become. They have been supportive from the start and continue to be my biggest fans”
“CJ is an extremely well balanced and even keeled young man and athlete,” said Duke head coach John Danowski. “ He loves to play and is loved by his teammates. His development has been impressive and he will continue to improve as he gains more DI experience.”
Costabile says he’d advise a young player trying to decide on a school to look past lacrosse.
“You just gotta find the right fit for you,” he said. “Look at a school, say ‘would I like to come here if I didn’t play?’ You want to put yourself where you’re going to succeed. What if you get hurt? It’s good to dream high but not everyone is going to play at Hopkins or Duke. Find the school that’s the best fit for you.”