DURHAM — Ask the Duke Blue Devils who is the most athletic on a team full of top-flight athletes, who is the most essential to success on a team full of potential All-Americans, and the answer turns up a player who is unsung and fairly anonymous to the casual observer: junior Will Haus.
Haus hasnt started one game, because he is a defensive midfielder. He has only registered 10 points, because he is a defensive midfielder. And when conversations about the Blue Devils best weapons come up, he isnt mentioned because he is a defensive midfielder.
Coach John Danowski compared Haus role to that of an offensive guard in football. No flash, but all grit.
He is the cornerstone of what we do defensively, Danowski said.
Duke, the top overall seed in the NCAA mens lacrosse tournament, will need its defense for a deep postseason run. The Blue Devils road to defend their 2013 national title begins Sunday at 5:15 p.m. when they host Air Force (ESPNU).
Haus is a player who makes everyone from goalie Luke Aaron to attackman Josh Dionne more comfortable when the ball is in his stick. He is an essential part of Dukes highly successful face-off unit, playing on the wing while All-American Brendan Fowler is crouched down at the X.
People dont get to watch him play a lot. They look at goals, they look at a stat sheet, Fowler said. For Will Haus, they dont put a stat on how many times he catches the ball and clears it running by six guys. You dont really put a number on that. He does so many things that dont get recorded in a stat book but are huge for our teams success.
Haus grew up around the game, and he grew up in Chapel Hill, playing on the 2009 state runner-up and the 2008 state championship teams at Chapel Hill high (older brother John was on the 2007 state championship team and the 2006 state runner-up squad as well). Their father, John, was an All-American at North Carolina who returned to coach his alma matter in June 2000.
From the time he was 6, 7, 8 years old, Will always had a stick in his hand, the elder John Haus said, who is now the coach at Division III Lebanon Valley, in Central Pennsylvania.
But when John Haus was let go as the Tar Heels coach after the 2008 season, the familys days of rooting for and wearing North Carolina blue were done. The younger John Haus, a rising senior, had already committed to the Tar Heels but re-opened his recruitment and selected Maryland instead.
That helped me a lot, seeing him be at Maryland, play at Maryland, Will said of his brother, I realized that there are other schools out there, good choices.
Will Haus decision came down to Duke or Maryland, and ultimately the combination of athletics and academics at Duke won out over playing with his brother in College Park. Once he arrived on campus before the 2012 season, the offensively gifted attackman in high school started contributing as a freshman at a new position: defensive midfield.
That wasnt the plan when the Blue Devils recruited him, Danowski said. But Haus was too athletic to keep on the sidelines, and Duke had a need at defensive midfield, and the fit has stuck.
Last year we tinkered with the idea of putting him back on offense, Danowski said, But he was just too good defensively. He really has accepted his role.
Haus describes his position as a workhorse-type role. Dionne, a senior attack man, took it a little further.
Id define his role as kind of a gladiator, Dionne said. There are certain people on the field, when theyre on the ball or have the ball, they make you relax and have a little confidence.
As soon as Will gets the ball off of a save and a clear, its pretty safe to say he is going to clear it. Theres not many kids Ive seen that are faster than him or that can stop him.
The Blue Devils will likely go as far as its defense will allow. Their offensive unit is one of the best in the country, but it doesnt matter if a team scores 15 goals but gives up 16, like Duke did in its ACC tournament semifinal loss to Syracuse. And with fellow defensive midfielder Luke Duprey out with an injury, the Blue Devils will rely on Haus even more. Thats still a comfortable position.
I know I can look to him on any clear, and hell get it done for me, goaltender Luke Aaron said. I can trust him with the ball anytime.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley