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Q&A: Tom Schreiber talks Rock, pro lacrosse popularity, and building box in America

By Paul Tutka, 12/06/19, 10:00AM PST

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Tom Schreiber led Toronto in assists, points and special team scoring last year. (Photo: Ryan McCullough)

Entering his fourth season in the National Lacrosse League, the Toronto Rock’s Tom Schreiber has quickly gone from an American rookie without a lick of legit box lacrosse experience, to one of the league’s absolute best players in a significantly short amount of time. 

In fact, you could easily argue that even during his rookie run back in 2017, he was already one of the NLL’s elite while leading the Rock in point production, finishing seventh overall in league scoring, and obviously the overwhelming favorite for Rookie of the Year honors. A year later, had a knee injury not cut his season short, many felt the second-year Schreiber was the frontrunner for NLL MVP accolades too. 

Impressive?  

That type of recognition is rare for pro players that have been playing box since the age of six. Schreiber did it after only going indoors for the first time in his mid 20s. Impressive would be putting it mildly. Exceptional would be much more appropriate. 

The East Meadow, New York native has also spent the past two years working with the US Box Lacrosse Association as a coach, mentor, and outspoken supporter of USBOXLA’s mission of educating, developing, and promoting box lacrosse in the country.

We had the chance to sit down with Schreiber just days before the start of Toronto’s 2019-20 season, and talked about his rapid rise with the Rock, the growth of pro lacrosse both indoors and out, his feelings on the future of box lacrosse in the US, what Casey Powell told him before his first NLL game, plus way more. 

 

Firstly, how is the shoulder doing? 
All good! I took our pre-season games off as more of a precautionary measure, but I participated in the rest of camp and I’m ready to roll for our first game. Rehabbing took up some time of what is already a pretty short offseason, but it went well. I just can’t wait to get going for real this weekend.


Afters sustaining an injury during the PLL season, Schreiber is healthy and ready to go for the Rock. (Photo: Ryan McCullough)

With zero box experience when you started with the Rock in 2017, you were still able to make an immediate impact in the NLL and seemingly picked up the indoor version of the sport really quickly. Now entering your fourth season in Toronto, how much time is still spent learning the nuances of box lacrosse?
I take the attitude that I’m always learning, but I don’t think that’s specific to box or field. If you’re interested in improving as a player, no matter if you’re a youth player or a 15-year pro, that moment you stop trying to learn and improve, is the moment you’re going to stop growing as a player. With that said, I think there’s still a ton for me to learn playing box lacrosse, and I’m really fortunate to have great coaches and players to learn from playing with the Rock. 

Prior to playing your first game in the NLL, Casey Powell called you with some words of wisdom. What did he say?
There’s no denying that Casey transitioned from field to box as well if not better than anyone else – going from college to the NLL with extremely limited box exposure. He had some technical type advice, but the bulk of his message was basically just having an open mind. He told me there would obviously be some adjustments I’d have to make, but to not get frustrated and keep working at it. If I really wanted to be successful in the NLL, he told me it would take a serious commitment and wasn’t something that would just happen overnight. Don’t miss practice, get your reps in, and take every opportunity presented to you.

Jesse Hubbard was another American that reached out. He explained that when you’re shooting, unlike in field where you’re aiming top corner and probably gonna hit that corner, in box it’s more about beating the goalie and outthinking him, in addition to being accurate.


Schreiber is the only forward that played for Toronto in 2017 that is still with the team today. (Photo: Ryan McCullough)

Going into the 2019-20 NLL season, there are only six players on Toronto’s active roster that were there when you started in 2017*. How has the team evolved over the past four years?
Some of the pieces have changed, but the coaching staff has remained the same, and obviously having (Rock Owner, President, and GM) Jamie Dawick there as a constant presence in so many areas of the team helps a lot too. The culture, expectations, and standards are set by the staff first, and then some of those guys like Challen Rogers and Nick Rose who’ve have been here for a while, ensure that same consistency is happening at the player level too. But sure, there has been some turnover since my first year in Toronto. I don’t think there’s a single offensive guy still on the team since my rookie year. It’s allowed me to learn from a lot of different players, and some of the ones during my early years with the team also had a really big impact on my career. Brett Hickey really made a big effort to help me out during my first two weeks with the team. Kasey Beirnes was another guy that really helped me during that first training camp. And then obviously Kieran McArdle and I were together experiencing everything for the first time, which helped a lot. This year we have Dan Dawson here, and his impact has been pretty profound. In the one month we’ve been teammates; his knowledge, his leadership, and just Dan as a person have really stuck out to me. 

*The six players on the Rock’s current 21-man active roster that also played for the team in 2017 are: Damon Edwards, Latrell Harris, Bill Hostrawser, Brad Kri, Challen Rogers, and Nick Rose. Rob Hellyer was on the IR in 2017, while Brock Sorensen is on the IR this year.

You mentioned Kieran McArdle, who was picked up by the expansion New York Riptide over the offseason. With an anticipated more significant role playing for Regy Thorpe’s young group, how big a year do you think Kieran can have in 2020?
I’ve said this about my situation in the past. I was fortunate to be able to fit into a perfect role in Toronto based on what they needed and what I could offer them. The Rock needed someone that could kinda handle the ball, distribute, and breakdown defenders, which I was able to do. And then the Rock needed someone else that was a little more multifaceted and versatile, which is what Kieran can do so well. If I had to fill the role Kieran did here, I would have probably struggled more trying to do the things that were required of him. I obviously don’t know what Regy’s plan is for him, but I think Kieran will find himself in a similar spot I was in with Toronto. I think if he’s given that type of role, he can flourish in it. We saw a glimpse of that while he played for Team USA in B.C. at the Worlds. I thought he really showcased what he can do with the ball in his stick more, and although we’ll really miss him in Toronto, I can’t wait to see what he does for New York this year. 

Your shoulder injury forced you to miss the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships with Team USA. How difficult was it watching from the stands, but at the same time, how impressed were you with what you saw from the Americans at the tournament?
Firstly, after watching Team USA, I’m super excited for the future. It was great to see US Lacrosse devote more resources to the national program. Everything from the staff that they brought in, to the number of events we participated in prior to the Worlds, it was all a change for the better. 

Not being able to play for Team USA was a real bummer. That tournament was something I had circled on my calendar for a long time. I think we all felt that we were going to take that next step, and to not be a part of that was obviously difficult for me. To be really just a couple plays away from beating the Iroquois would have been such a huge result for the program. I think overall though we had a really strong showing. Regy has been very clear that what we’re building with Team USA is a long-term build, and I’m just looking forward to be involved with that. I think the future is bright and a lot of the right moves are being made. 

How much do you see the National Collegiate Box Series (NCBS) helping build the type of players Team USA will need to achieve the goals US Lacrosse and Thorpe have set for the senior men’s program?
I think a ton. That level of play, and I’ve been fortunate to see it in person in Denver and the National Championship in Huntington Beach, is really, really impressive. I wish that I had the opportunity to have been able to play in a league like the NCBS when I was going to school. The players in those leagues getting that level of experience and competition is critical. I think the reason why USBOXLA Nationals are so cool is because you get to see the American box player at the really young youth levels, and then also what that player can become at the NCBS level. I really think that we’re going to see a huge influx of American players at the senior and pro level because of that full range of development being spearheaded by USBOXLA. What USBOXLA is doing for the sport is so important for box lacrosse in the US. 

You’ve been at the USBOXLA Nationals the last couple summers. What is your biggest takeaway from the event?
I think the biggest thing for me is just seeing how much American kids absolutely love box lacrosse. Yes, they are there to compete, but the amount of fun the players are having is really something special. I don’t want to get political or create any controversy here, but I’m not sure that same statement can be made for field lacrosse at the youth level in the US. I always leave Nationals with a really good, positive feeling because I know everyone there had a lot of fun and really enjoyed their experience. To see the level of play from these kids really excites me for the future of box lacrosse in the US. 


Paul Rabil last played in the National Lacrosse League with Philadelphia during the 2013 season. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

One name that was kinda on the Rock’s roster back in 2017 and still is today, albeit on the team’s protected player list, is Paul Rabil. Do you ever talk to Paul about his NLL days, and do you think he might one day return to the league?
I’ve definitely talked to Paul about his experience in the NLL. He’s always spoken very highly of the NLL and even just box as a whole. As for a comeback… I would be shocked! I have access to Paul’s daily calendar, and I don’t think most days he has enough time to fit in an extra 15 meeting, let alone the amount of time he’d need to invest into playing an entire NLL season. Trust me, I’d love to have him as a teammate in Toronto, but I think the chances of that happening are slim to none. 

You worked closely with Paul this past year launching the Premier Lacrosse League, and brought more buzz to professional lacrosse than it’s ever experienced. With a stupendously successful Year 1 in the books, what do you see for the PLL in 2020 and beyond?
The hope and the expectation is to continue to ascend and keep improving. We were able to stoke a lot of excitement around the game and brought some more eyeballs to it. That was done largely through our great relationship with NBC, but also the resources we’ve invested into a great digital and social team that does just an outstanding job putting out quality content around our players and teams. Getting that type of elevated exposure and highlighting the player experience are things that are super important to us as we continue to build the PLL. 

I know for me personally, I really want to see more guys be able to make the transition to becoming a full-time lacrosse player, and not have to balance a bunch of different jobs in order to make that a reality. Trust me, I love coaching at clinics, I love training other players, but I think it’s important for players to be actual full-time athletes who can concentrate on their own training, development, and careers too. We want to create actual pro lacrosse players. For the future, we want to put out a product that can sustain that lifestyle for players. At the end of the day, whether you’re a youth player, pro player, a man, a woman… we just want to see this game grow and flourish at every level. 


Schreiber hopes that through the success of the PLL and NLL, players can become full-time professionals soon. (Photo: PLL)

You came into the NLL at a pretty pivotal time. The league had recently replaced their front office, now led of course by Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz. During your first year, the NLL had nine franchises. Now heading into 2020, they sit at 13 with new clubs in San Diego, Philadelphia, New York, and Halifax. Do you think the NLL is finally headed in the right direction?
I do feel like I’ve been a part of some really exciting times in the NLL. To see new markets and teams pop up as been really impressive. Personally, I love seeing the number of Americans involved in the league increase too. I love the different culture that the NLL and box in general has in comparison to field lacrosse. It’s very unique and something I’ve really enjoyed being a part of. I think the league is in good hands with Nick leading the charge. I think the commitment we’ve seen at the youth level through their partnership with USBOXLA is huge. And not just huge in kind of optics or messaging, but significant in the sense that we are finally seeing proper instruction and development at the youth level in the US, and previously I’m not sure we saw that type of collaboration between the league and various grassroots efforts. I think the NLL has a lot of positive things happening right now, and it’s definitely headed in the right direction.

Why is it important for the NLL to have more Americans playing in it? 
I’m a big believer that more American players playing in US markets can only be seen as a positive. I think with more Americans playing you’ll see even greater support in those US cities, which means more ticket sales, which means more B/R Live subscriptions, which means really more of everything. We’ve also seen what investment in grassroots by a pro team can do for growth too; turning that field player into a box player and obviously an NLL fan. 

Plus, I think by getting more Americans in the league, you’re also getting access to a new type of player. I think right now the American lacrosse player is evolving, especially those that have been exposed to box lacrosse at a young age. We’re starting to see different skill sets and different abilities possessed by the American player, similarly to the evolution we’ve seen of the Canadian lacrosse player in recent years. I think the continued exposure of young Americans to the box game will create a really exciting player.

You can catch Tom Schreiber, the Rock, and all the 2019-20 NLL actin on B/R Live this season. Go to live.bleacherreport.com/subscribe for more information. 

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