By Paul Ryan | 11/8/13 2:40 PM
Editor’s note: There are several family ties throughout Major League Lacrosse’s rich history. Starting with the Gaits and Powells and all the way through to the Leveilles, Spallinas and Untersteins, brothers have continued to compete with or against each other throughout adulthood. Today we look at how the Leveille brothers eventually got to play on the same team.
The Leveilles were born to play lacrosse – literally.
After Kevin was born, his godfather placed a lacrosse stick in his crib at the hospital – it was the perfect match.
Since then, Kevin and Mike have combined for 14 seasons in the MLL, 330 goals and 461 points. They have been one of the most successful lacrosse families in the league’s history, creating countless memories in their time in the MLL.
The two learned the sport from their father George, who started the club lacrosse team at Niagara University. The two boys would shoot around in the backyard along with their dad, and would often playing in summer leagues in nearby Albany.
Lacrosse wasn’t the only sport for the duo growing up, however. Each played soccer and hockey as well – or one sport per season – in their hometown of Delmar, New York. Kevin even cites the New York Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup playoff run as one of his favorite memories growing up with Mike. Despite this, lacrosse was and forever will be the No. 1 sport in the hearts of the Leveilles.
“To me, lacrosse was the most exciting sport,” Kevin says. “It’s just such a fast pace. At the time, there was a lot of opportunity versus hockey, which is obviously a much tougher path to the top, so those things combined led me down the path of lacrosse. I’ve certainly enjoyed making that decision in the years beyond.”
When they were finally old enough, Kevin and Mike started playing on organized teams. When Kevin reached the seventh grade, Mike was only in second, but that didn’t stop him from playing with kids four to five years older than him.
“He looked like a helmet with cleats,” Kevin says about Mike’s size, or lack thereof. “He was literally half the size of everyone out there and getting walloped pretty good, but at the same time, he was hanging in there and had a couple good plays. I remember being impressed at that point, like, ‘wow, my little brother who’s tiny is hanging with all these middle schoolers and doing well. That’s pretty amazing.’”
The age difference of the two prevented them from playing any further for quite a while. In the meantime, Kevin decided to attend the University of Massachusetts where he went on to be named a first-team All-American his senior year. One of the deciding factors in choosing UMass over a traditional powerhouse like Duke or Johns Hopkins for Kevin was his family.
“The fact that it was a half hour away from my parents was big,” Kevin says. “After all the sacrifices they made, letting us play here and there, it was very important to me that they be involved and be able to come watch.”
When Kevin graduated from UMass in 2003, Major League Lacrosse was still in its infancy. It wasn’t until his senior year in college he realized playing in the league was even a possibility.
“Coach Cannella [at UMass] was like, ‘there’s this draft or whatever, do you wanna fill this out to put your name in?’ and I was like, ‘sure, whatever.’ I didn’t really think too much of it, which was probably a good thing because I was more focused on finishing the season as well as I could at UMass.
“The night after the draft, Chris Fiori and I, who were both drafted by the Cannons, played at UMass together and were best friends, we drove from where the draft was in Philadelphia to practice in Boston. We’re at practice, balls are flying around, people were bigger, faster, stronger, the shots were harder, the goalies were better. We were just like, ‘whoa, this is amazing.’
“It took me halfway through the year to break the lineup just because our team was so good. It was kind of surreal the whole time. It was cool because it was never really on my radar. College had been the pinnacle. To have the opportunity right afterwards was exciting, awesome, new and different. It took a little while to realize [what was happening].”
While Kevin started to make a name for himself in the MLL, Mike was just coming into his own. After a dominant high school career, Mike decided on Syracuse University for his collegiate playing days. At Syracuse, Mike scored 132 goals and registered 83 assists, 215 points total in just 59 games. That’s 3.64 points per game, if you were wondering. His collegiate success culminated in his final week as a Syracuse lacrosse player.
In a six-day span in late May of 2008, Mike won the following:
· A national championship
· Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four
· Named a First-team All-American
· Was a First-round MLL draft pick (only behind Paul Rabil and Matt Danowski)
· Won the Tewaaraton Trophy
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better week in the history of the sport, let alone college lacrosse.
To put the cherry on top of the week, the team that drafted Mike traded him away to the Chicago Machine just a few hours after they drafted him. The reason that was such a good thing? Mike was finally reunited with his brother, and the two were able to play lacrosse at the highest level, together.
“I started lobbying for him two or three years in advance,” Kevin says. “So to see it come to fruition was obviously exciting. That’s what it’s all about. To have the opportunity to play together is definitely special. That was a great day. I was a little nervous once New Jersey picked him up but I’m glad that we worked it out.”
The brothers were excited to start playing together for the first time in nearly 15 years. Their teammates, however, were not nearly as excited.
“In our first practice together, everyone was like ‘are you gonna pass the ball to anyone else?’” Kevin says while laughing. “We had chemistry right off the bat, which we always figured we would, but that first practice was great. We connected probably 15 times and were just dominating. That was really cool.”
Their teammates started to like the duo more once they started playing in actual games. In their first game together, Mike registered four points – two goals and two assists, both assists going to – who else – but Kevin. Mike earned Rookie of the Week honors for his performance, beginning what looked to be the start of a long and successful career.
Sadly for Mike and fans alike, his full-time job started to prevent him from being able to play at his highest ability. After sitting out the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Mike played just seven games in 2013, recording only four goals in that timespan.
“It’s unfortunate,” Kevin says. “He’s got a big time job with NBC in New York City so he can’t afford the time to be in the right shape and be in the right lacrosse mode to compete. But I understand it completely and totally back him on the decision. It was the right thing to do for him.”
Despite this, Kevin still thinks that Mike is one of the greatest attackmen of all-time. “He can play the attack position in so many different ways. He can carry the ball, he’s got a great shot and he’s a great feeder. He’s a great teammate and a guy you can rely on.”
Epilogue – The Golden Brothers?
In 2010, Mike earned a gold medal at the 2010 FIL World Championships in England. Kevin, meanwhile, served as an alternate on the team, watching Mike make the All-World team, only one of three attackmen to do so. This time around, Kevin has to do the opposite – winning gold without Mike there.
“I’m kind of just trying to carry the torch for the both of us,” Kevin says. “It’s definitely not as fun to not be playing with him in the USA uniform but it’s ok. I’m just trying not to think about it too much. It’d be another cherry on top of the pie if he were out there.”
Kevin will try to be one of the 23 US players to compete for the gold at the 2014 World Championships in Denver. This upcoming spring, he’ll compete in his 11th MLL season where he’s still chasing his first ring. Hopefully for him, Mike and for MLL fans everywhere, they can play together just one last time.
“Obviously there’s a handful of guys who have been able to [play together] in the MLL,” Kevin says. “I think all of us share the same kind of bond. It’s a really unique thing to be at the top of the sport with your brother and your best friend.”