By MLL Communications | 1/24/13 3:50 PM
Perseverance, this is the first word that comes to mind when talking to Chesapeake Bayhawks defenseman Mike Simon about his journey through the professional ranks. The Stevenson University product is poised to join several MLL players who have been called into the U.S. Men’s National team to participate in the 2012 Champion Challenge this weekend. They will take on Notre Dame and reigning NCAA champion Loyola, in a pair of evaluation matches to better prepare for next year’s FIL World Lacrosse Championships.
But Simon’s story is slightly different than that of many MLL players , coming out of a DIII school, Simon had little expectations of playing professionally but his passion for the game led him to find avenues to continue to play the sport he loved.
“I think regardless of whether I was going to be playing professionally or not I still had a lot of interest in continuing to play,” Simon said. “I found some club teams in the area to play with so I could continue to work on my game.”
Playing at the club level got him noticed by the Bayhawks who gave him a chance and picked him out of the player pool in 2010.
“I was fortunate enough to play for Paul Cantabene who had a relationship with Spencer Ford , the GM of the Bayhawks at the time,” he continued. “He had some nice things to say about me to Spencer [Ford] and they decided to give me a shot. That is when I was picked out of the player pool to play in the 2010 season.”
After appearing in one game in 2010, Simon was released by the Bayhawks but the defenseman persevered and participated in an open tryout with Chesapeake and was added to the roster again the following year.
“I only had a chance to play in one game that season and that was due to the fact that Mike Evans was participating in the 2010 World Games,” he said. “I think [playing in the game] was a big reason why I hung around playing on the practice squad. It really made me hungrier after playing in that one game it made me want to continue to play more and I kept working at it.”
It wasn’t until the end of 2012 that Simon would see action in a game again but that led him to be named to the championship gameday roster. That day, he contributed an assist and helped the Bayhawks win their second MLL Championship in three years.
“Playing in the championship game was really a remarkable experience for me,” Simon continued. “With only two games left in the regular season I still hadn’t played in a game and I went from being a practice squad guy to being able to contribute in a meaningful way to a championship. It was a little bit surreal. It was a validation of all the hard work and the time and commitment I put in to playing for the Bayhwaks.”
Simon caught the attention of U.S. National Team head coach Richie Meade who invited him to an intra squad scrimmage last October. Then in November he was named to the roster for the Champion Challenge that will take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., January 25-27.
“He’s strong, he’s athletic, he plays really hard and he just did a really good job,” Meade said about Simon. “When we were watching him play [U.S. assistant coach]Dave Pietramala turned to me and said: ‘where were we when this guy was being recruited?’Because he wound up at a DIII school as opposed to a top program. But he showed some promise, he did well in our evaluation game and we wanted to see him again.”
“I was a little surprised,” Simon said about his call-up. “I was encouraged by one of my teammates to throw my hat in the ring and I figured that having just played in the championship game, someone affiliated with U.S. Lacrosse had a chance to see me play and liked what they saw. Even though I didn’t play much during the season I think that being able to play and contribute in the championship was the reason I got a shot [at the U.S. national Team]”
Simon plans to go into camp, work hard and keep doing the things he’s accustomed to.
“It’s kind of the same expectation I had over the last three years,” he continued. “To be honest, the one thing I try to do is play the game the best I possibly can and, with that said, there are a lot of things I cannot control. So the only thing I can do is play my absolute best.”
Like many professional lacrosse players he juggles different duties including a day job and teaching the same values he practices to his U12 team at Thunder Lacrosse, a club founded by his Bayhawks teammate Jeff Reynolds.
“They are a great group of kids and while winning and being successful on the field is important it’s also about teaching core values and doing the right thing on and off the field,” Simon said. “I’ve had a pretty neat experience for someone who is beginning to emerge in the MLL. I wouldn’t say it’s uncommon in professional sports, but I certainly had to put my time in on the practice squad so what I would say to younger players is have a belief in yourself and enjoy the game and if you find ways to contribute to your team from a practice position and just helping your teammates improve, learn to do it in a way that you enjoy doing so. You will find that you’ll actually have a better attitude and it will pay off in the long run.”
Simon concludes that he would be honored should he make the 2014 U.S. Men’s National Team but still keeps a level head when thinking about it.
“I don’t know what the future holds for me as far as playing with Team USA,” he concluded. “ It’s nice to think and dream about it, but for this weekend all I can do is go in try to compete, try to do the right things that I know the coaches are looking for as far as a team dynamic, and just try to make the little plays that I can to stand out. It’s hard to say that it is something I need to do to validate myself as a player but it would be a remarkable honor to be a part of team USA. The greatest honor that I could have as a lacrosse player would be to be able to play wearing the USA Logo across my chest.”
For more information about the 2013 U.S. Lacrosse Champion Challenge visit USLacrosse.org/ChampionChallenge