Weekender: All Eyes on Cortland's DeLuca
|Whether it's facing off, playing defense, or scoring
critical goals, senior middie Chris DeLuca is the straw that stirs
the drink for Cortland. So far this season, he has more goals (5)
than faceoff losses (4).
© Darl Zehr Photography
Steve Beville will look out on the field just before the opening whistle on Saturday against Stevenson and see Chris DeLuca, clad almost entirely in red, standing ready to take the opening faceoff. It will be at that point when any of Beville's lingering doubts about the Red Dragons preparedness for the monumental clash will fade away.
If DeLuca is ready to play, the Red Dragons are, too.
The heart and soul of Cortland this spring, and a member of the long, red line of program leaders, DeLuca represents the competitive compass of his team. When the Red Dragons prepare themselves for a game, all eyes are on No. 31.
"We don't really have to say or do anything," said Beville. "He leads by example. It's a culture that has been established by guys like Felice and Lemon and Heath and those guys. They did a tremendous job showing DeLuca how to lead when they were here and he has carried it over. Hopefully, the younger guys are picking up on these leadership qualities and traits that Chris has."
The most important attribute DeLuca has shown, and it's one that led directly to him being named the National Player of the Year last spring, is his willingness to learn. An aspiring physical education teacher, the senior has mastered the art of listening.
"He's a sponge," said Beville. "Once you show him something, you don't have to keep going over and over it with him. He's very attentive to the coaching side of things. He's worked real hard on all the aspects of his game to become the complete player that he is."
Complete is the perfect way to describe DeLuca. He has been a dominant faceoff man for his entire career – he owns an astounding 69.1 career winning percentage (478-for-692) and is currently running at a ridiculous 87.5 clip (28-for-32) this year. In addition, he has finished third on the team in scoring the past two seasons, including 52 points in 2010. He plays on the man-up unit and often transitions to the defensive end.
The question often asked is whether DeLuca is a faceoff guy who has a knack for scoring, or an offensive middie who can also operate at the 'X.'
"That's a hard question," admitted DeLuca. "When I came in here I was strictly faceoff as a freshman because there were a lot of older guys ahead of me. I guess kind of both. I like playing at the 'X' because it's a big part of the game, but offense is a big part, too. It's hard to say, I can't put one over the other."
Beville's not sure of the answer, either.
"When he got to us he was a pretty good shooter, and we worked on his technique a little bit and added a little torque to his shot," he said. "We helped him find lanes in some of the spots he was getting his shots and helped him refine his faceoff technique a little bit, but again, coming out of school he could always do a little bit of everything. He's worked hard on all of the facets of his game. It's really helped him to be the dominant guy that he is."
All of the extra coaching, and DeLuca's willingness to accept it, has helped the combo-middie evolve from a lightly-recruited player out of Sayville, N.Y., into arguably the best player in the country. It certainly wasn't something Beville foresaw.
"Did we expect him to be the Player of the Year as a junior? No, to put it simply."
One of the reasons DeLuca wasn't heavily recruited coming out of high school was he was toying with the notion of playing football in college. A standout running back and safety at Sayville, DeLuca only put his gridiron dreams on ice during his first fall ball with the Red Dragons. It was a decision for which he holds zero regrets.
The only qualms are leftover from last year when the individual accolades came rolling in for DeLuca, but the Red Dragons were shown the exit in the national semifinals by Tufts.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm really grateful and thankful for all of the awards I've been getting and to my teammates for helping me get them, but we're all here for the one reason -- get to the national championship game and win it," said DeLuca. "I'm happy with how some of the things went last year, but definitely more unhappy because we didn't reach out ultimate goal."
"Chris' number one motivation has always been winning," said Beville. "As coaches, we obviously love that part of his mentality; that he'll do whatever it takes to get the win."
When DeLuca gets down in his crouch for the opening faceoff on Saturday, he'll be prepared to do just that.