The eyes really have it when Billy Coghill is playing

by PAUL ATTNER

Washington Post

Maryland Arrows’ Bill Coghill has played box lacrosse for 20 of his 25 years, but he felt almost like a stranger the first time around the National Lacrosse League circuit.

“The first time we played Toronto, Chuck Li checked me most of the game,” said Coghill, the team’s second highest scorer.  “I was scoring pretty well off him and finally during the third period, he looked at me and said ‘You’re Billy Coghill.  I didn’t recognize you.’”

The difference in Coghill was his eyes.  Instead of wearing glasses, he was wearing contacts.  And not only was his appearance altered.  At that time he was not the player who had been regarded so highly by the Arrows that he was drafted second behind Paul Suggate.

Again, the eyes were the culprit.  He couldn’t see, at least as clearly and sharply as before.  The contacts made his eyes water and he blinked a lot.  They ruined his concentration, affected his attitude and diminished his performance.

“I went to contacts so I could wear a bar across my face,” said Coghill.  “I wanted more protection.  I was sick of getting battered on the face.”

Right now, he’s sporting a fat lip and bruised jaw from a particularly ill-placed stick check in a recent game against Philadelphia.  His right nostril has been permanently closed for 20 years of such beatings and will require off-season surgery to correct it.

Coghill has been a wizard with his lacrosse stick.

“The guy’s got moves that even he doesn’t know about,” said Suggate, who grew up on the same street as Coghill and played lacrosse with him since he was five.

At one point, Coghill was the man in the spotlight, not Suggate.  When they were both in their final year of junior lacrosse, Coghill led the league in scoring with 194 points in 24 games and the squad won the Minto Cup, emblematic of junior lacrosse supremacy in Canada.

“That was a fun year because we won and I scored,” said Coghill.  “But I don’t mind Paul getting the spotlight.  It’s due to our styles.  He’s dynamic out there, and I’m not.”

Then he added, “I see my role as the playmaker.  I try to draw checkers to me, so I can pass it off to an unguarded shooter.  That’s why I like to operate out front.  I want to open things up, spread them out.”

Coghill bloomed about the same time Cy Coombes took over as Arrows’ coach.  And the player knows why.

“It’s the way Cy motivates you,” Coghill said.  “You should be able to get yourself up for a game, and then he gives you that extra incentive.  He’s great at making you want to play.

“He’s also given us more responsibility.  He depends on certain players on every line to make things work.  It makes you feel important, the way he talks to you and spells things out for you.”

Coombes likewise has given the Arrows a system that demands that they use it.  “We’ve found out that if we use the system right we win and if we let it break down, we fall apart,” said Coghill.

Coghill has also enjoyed playing box lacrosse fulltime after working both as an accountant and lacrosse player.  Indeed, he has even overcome a fear of flying to stay in the league.

“I’ve made the decision to play this game fulltime because I think it’s really going to go,” said Coghill.  “It’s the best sport around, always thought it was.

“I know the people in Maryland have taken to it.  Our crowds are enthusiastic, better than any in the league.  They are worth three goals a game the way they yell and scream.”

Playing on the same side as Suggate also is worth a few points a game.  Coghill, who plays the point on the Arrows’ power play, constantly tosses in shots from long range while defenders closely watch Suggate on the side.

“We were happy we both were drafted by the same team,” said Coghill, “but Maryland seemed so far away.  Now we are going to live down here all year.

“I tell you, this is the way to live.”

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