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U.S. Backup Goalie Fullerton Awaits Call of Duty
by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online
Adam Fullerton's risk-taking abilities earned him a roster spot on the U.S. men's national team bound this week for the FIL World Championships in Manchester, England.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
DENVER -- Pick your poison: Stopping lacrosse balls fired over 90 miles-per-hour or relaying artillery fire orders in a battle in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Adam Fullerton chooses both. He turns away shots when he’s in goal for Team USA and the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse, and he directs the artillery for an army unit preparing for deployment to the Middle East.
The 2008 Army graduate and the Black Knights' all-time saves leader, Fullerton is a lieutenant during the week, stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs.
Changing out of his ACUs (Army Combat Uniform) into shorts, jersey and helmet, Fullerton is a weekend lacrosse player for the Outlaws and Team USA, which this week embarks for Manchester, England and the FIL World Championships. The U.S. opens Friday against Australia.
Fullerton was a long shot to make the U.S. team, beating out six other goaltenders, including Navy graduate Mickey Jarboe.
Veteran Brian Dougherty, a member of the 1998 world title team, is the other Team USA keeper and likely starter.
“Of the three [final goalies], Adam is without question the best athlete,’’ said team USA head coach Mike Pressler. “He gives us some different things."
Before he could confidently show those things, Fullerton developed a mental strategy.
“I knew going into the tryouts that I was an underdog," he said. “I used it as something to prove myself."
Then he employed a tactical strategy.
“I tried to show my athletic ability, my ability outside the net with getting ground balls and my clearing abilities," he said. “I wanted to set myself apart."
Fullerton rolled the dice in his efforts to make the team. He gambled out of the cage.
“I took risks, but that was the point of the tryout, to show that willingness," he said. “Sometimes being that aggressive can come back to bite you and you can make mistakes, but that is a style I like to play."
Denver Outlaws coach Brian Reese has a front row seat for Fullerton’s sleight of hand.
“Adam can dictate shots," Reese said. “He can bluff, leaving one area open, and then move to that spot. He really messes with guys."
Along with his dynamics in front of the net, Fullerton is adept at coming out for ground balls and for starting fast breaks with aggressive clearing.
“Someone can come at him and he’ll run by them," Reese said. “Or he’ll fake a pass or dodge someone and get the transition going."
The key to Fullerton’s rise, from long shot to roster member, was the first day of tryouts. Due to limited play in the MLL -- first with Rochester, then with Denver -- Fullerton said he didn’t know what to expect at tryouts.
“I had a big day making saves the first day and I realized that I could hang with these guys," he said. “My confidence grew exponentially after day one. I had a great defense in front of me and I was playing the best lacrosse of my life."
In an effort to maintain that high level against the world's best, including defending champion Canada, Fullerton, 25, has sought experience.
The U.S. team is coming off a grueling week of training camp that included a come-from-behind win over the MLL All-Stars. Fullerton had to leave the MLL All-Star Game in the second half after a head-first collision with Peet Poillon, but his removal was more precautionary than anything.
Fullerton has also tried to stay sharp via his weekend work with the Outlaws. But he has not been afforded the luxury of regular competition in the MLL, due to his backup position behind all-league player Jesse Schwartzman.
“It has been tough," Fullerton said. “The whole idea for a young goalie to develop is to see a lot of shots."
Reese has found playing time for Fullerton for a variety of reasons: Fullerton’s skills, the different look he provides as a lefty and playing an ultra-aggressive style, and the desire to keep Schwartzman fresh for the playoffs. Denver clinched its fifth playoff appearance over the weekend.
Appearing in three games, Fullerton has posted a 12.59 goals against average and .558 save percentage. In his lone start, against the MLL-leading Boston Cannons, Fullerton made 16 saves in a 17-12 loss.
His day job, which prevented him from travelling with the Outlaws to Chicago on Friday, June 25, also has a way of aiding his preparation.
“A lacrosse ball coming at 90 miles per hour is not a big deal compared to working with artillery," Reese said. “Adam is not flustered. He’s never rattled. He’s on an even keel and I’m inclined to think that has to do with his military life."
Fullerton’s job, on a U.S. Army base 90 minutes south of Denver, is as a fire support officer -- fire, as in shoot a weapon. He is a coordinator of indirect fire, meaning that the cannon guns are not in sight of their target; they are miles away, leaving Fullerton to see for the gunners, relaying target locations and adjustments.
The unit’s deployment date is unknown.
“It is a waiting game right now," Fullerton said.
Fullerton has an idea of what to expect from his twin brother, Patrick, a former Army attackman, who has already deployed to Iraq and returned stateside, where he is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas.
Combining lacrosse with his military career is a dream come true for Fullerton.
“It is awesome," he said. “It is every young athlete’s dream to reach the highest level. I get to wear USA on my chest every day in both parts of my life."
In recent months, Fullerton has paid close attention to how athletes carry themselves on the international stage. He tuned into the Winter Olympic hockey action from Vancouver and World Cup soccer from South Africa.
“The World Lacrosse Championships are not as big as the Olympics or World Cup soccer, but it is the highest it gets in our sport," he said. “It is a huge honor to represent the U.S. It doesn’t get any better."
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