Aug 21st, 2012 | A look at Tory Stevens and his journey to Charlotte
by Samuel Perley
For most people 24 years is a long to be doing anything, let alone competing in a sport as grueling and competitive as box lacrosse. Not so for goaltender Tory Stevens, who just might need another 24 years to satisfy his own craving for the sport.
At 27 years old, Stevens has earned a spot at goaltender for the Charlotte Copperheads inaugural season but his path to doing so has been anything but quick. Born into a lacrosse family, Stevens began playing as a toddler on a Seneca tribe reservation in upstate New York, an area known for its rich history and tradition in the sport within the Native American community. Stevens was born into local lacrosse legacy as his grandfather, Gilbert Lay, made huge contributions to the game and has numerous lacrosse arenas and buildings named after him within the area. Persuaded by his father to play goaltender, Stevens played the fast-paced box lacrosse throughout his youth and eventually made his way onto the local New Town Golden Eagles in the Can-Am League.
Stevens tried out persistently for teams in the National Lacrosse League for eight years but encountered the challenges many other American-born players face when trying to get noticed in a sport that tends to hold Canadian-born players in higher regard because of their familiarity with box lacrosse as opposed to the field version more commonly seen in the United States. Being a goaltender, Stevens says he saw even more limited opportunities than other players because “it is hard getting noticed when there are only two spots available.”
Engrained with a pure love for the sport, Stevens continued to play where he could and try out for anybody willing to give him a look even if it meant being passed over numerous times and in some cases for players less qualified than he was. Stevens was also forced to deal with a major knee injury two years ago that although hindered him physically, did nothing to curtail his enthusiasm or desire to play box lacrosse professionally.
Stevens made his way to a lacrosse combine in Richmond, Virginia, last December where he first caught the eye of Copperheads Head Coach, Tom Ryan, who Stevens lists as one of his idols growing up. Other than standing out as the best goaltender, Ryan says he was most impressed about Stevens’ commitment to the sport and “his willingness to get himself wherever he needed to be in order to play.” Ryan also wanted to see more American-born players given the opportunity to play box lacrosse and not simply be passed up for Canadian players, something Stevens and others have had to deal with for much of their careers.
Having dealt with so much rejection from team after team, one can imagine the excitement Stevens felt when he received a call from Ryan informing him of the team’s plans to draft him earlier this year. “I thought someone was playing a joke on me,” said Stevens, “it was surreal.”
As one of the more experienced box lacrosse players on the Copperheads, Stevens says he would really like to be part of the team that brings home the first championship in the Professional Lacrosse League and truly believes Charlotte as the talent and skill to be able to do so. More importantly, Stevens says he “wants to be able to serve as an ambassador for the Seneca nation and be able to open doors for other players” who may be passed over for teams just like he was. He will have no shortage of support back home as much of his community has rallied around his success and even put together a benefit for him when he first made the Copperheads.
After the season, Stevens plans on returning back to home to spend time with his girlfriend who will soon be giving birth to the couple’s first child. Besides his newfound fatherhood, Stevens plans to keep playing for the Golden Eagles in the offseason and long term hopes to still be playing as long as he is physically able to and perhaps eventually join one of the senior leagues on his reservation where his 55-year old father currently plays.
One thing we can count on for sure in the future is whether Stevens is on the Copperheads or not, his passion for the game and strong support he receives from his family and the Seneca nation means he will surely be playing the game he loves for as long as he can.