May 21, 2014

Despite Silent Treatment, Watkins Shines for Tufts

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

"It helps to have that silence and that time to myself to really focus on me. Coach Daly understands that, and he doesn't have anything to say to me that could be of any help anyway. He is just letting the goalie get into his own rhythm." - Tufts goalie Patton Watkins about the silent treatment he receives. (John Strohsacker)

Mike Daly doesn't talk to his goalie. He doesn't talk to any goalie.

The Tufts head coach communicates with all of the other players on the field, just not his starting netminder, Patton Watkins. It's not out of any ill will toward Watkins, who has started the majority of the games since he arrived in Medford from Tennessee four years ago. It's more of a language barrier.

"I don't speak goalie," Daly said.

As far as Daly is concerned, only goalies know how to speak the vernacular that is solely understood by other keepers, so he lets his goalie coach, Chris Carr, do all of the communicating with Watkins. Carr can't make it to all of the practices, so the Tufts staff will upload practice footage to the web so Carr can evaluate how the Tufts goalie contingent is doing even when he's not in Medford. They'll even make warm-ups and drills available to Carr on his iPad.

The goalie isolation doesn't end there.

Even other players shouldn't try to speak with Watkins anywhere near the lacrosse field.

"At one point in the Cortland game, one of the defensemen was talking to Patton and I said, 'Whoa, whoa, you don't talk to him,'" Daly said. "'If you have something to bring up, you say it to me, I say it to Chris Carr and Chris Carr says it to Patton, because he has to translate it and make sure it comes across in goalie language.' That's a real important part."

It may sound like Daly is shining us on with this schtick, but there is a method to his madness.

"Sometimes what you don't say is as important as what we say," he said. "So we limit the voices that our goalies hear very methodically and very calculated, so the mental side of the game stays where it needs to be and he doesn't hear 30 or more voices every play."

More importantly, Watkins appreciates Daly's goalie tactics.

"It's out of a mutual respect," Watkins said. "Ever since Day One when I showed up on the Tufts campus, Coach Daly has said, 'I don't talk to goalies.' I don't know why, exactly, but that's just his motto. And I appreciate that because on game day, from the second I step on the field, I don't talk much. I don't say much to other people. I'm just 100 percent focused on myself and getting in the zone and playing to the best of my ability. It helps to have that silence and that time to myself to really focus on me. Coach Daly understands that, and he doesn't have anything to say to me that could be of any help anyway. He is just letting the goalie get into his own rhythm."

There's no question that Watkins has a near flawless rhythm as the Jumbos enter the national championship game against Salisbury on Sunday, but his career he has had its share of highs and lows.

When Watkins arrived in 2011, he was behind then-senior Steven Foglietta, who was the hero of Tufts national championship run the year before. Six games into the season, however, Foglietta was sidelined with a rib cartilage tear, opening the door for Watkins to get his chance. He helped the Jumbos win the NESCAC championship and breeze to the national championship game, taking down an undefeated RIT team in the semifinals.

"Patton had success early and then maybe had a little bit of a humbling scenario, but everything changed in the fall. He refocused and, most importantly, he kept working." - Tufts coach Mike Daly. (John Strohsacker)

"Those were some big shoes to fill," Watkins said of replacing Foglietta. "Being in the shadow of this national championship-winning goalie really motivated me to go hard every day to prepare. By the time I was put into the starting spot, I felt pretty comfortable and well-prepared for the job."

The season ended when Salisbury, still stinging from losing in the title game the year before, torched Tufts, chasing Watkins midway through the second quarter after racing out to a 9-3 lead. The 19-7 final is the largest margin of victory in Division III finals history.

Watkins had a solid sophomore campaign, finishing 17-3 and leading the Jumbos to the semifinals before bowing to Cortland. Things started to wobble a little bit for Watkins last year, however.

After taking the losses in the first two games because a good portion of the roster was suspended for an off-field misstep, he helped Tufts win three straight, including a 16-save performance against Stevenson in a 7-6 victory – just one of two losses on the season for the eventual national champions.

But two games later, Watkins got yanked in the middle of a game. The following contest, the hook came again. The game after that, freshman Alex Salazar was given the start and went all 60 minutes.

"Last year, I felt a little bit complacent in my starting role and I slacked a little bit, and [Salazar] was right behind me," Watkins said. "He was feeling the same way I did as a freshman with this returning goalie ahead of him pushing him to get better. So he beat me out of that spot for a good chunk of the season."

"With our confidence in our roster, we can treat our goalie like a midfielder and the guys who are producing, play," Daly said. "That's really the journey we've been on with that position."

Salazar ended up starting seven games – a third of the Jumbos' games – before Watkins finally earned his starting job back. It was something that Watkins didn't forget as he prepared for the 2014 season during the fall, when NESCAC teams aren't allowed to have organized practices.

"Patton had success early and then maybe had a little bit of a humbling scenario, but everything changed in the fall," Daly said. "He refocused and, most importantly, he kept working. I'd pull in in the morning and his car would be in the lot and he'd be out on the field getting shots and he'd be bringing teammates along with him. In the face of today's society and in the face of coddling parents, of which I am one, instead of saying that it's the coaches fault, or they don't like me or it's everyone in the worlds fault but mine, he really took ownership of the situation. In the face of adversity, he kept working. That has been a huge part of our success as a program. I'm really proud of Patton being a reflection of that."

Watkins has started every game this spring, posting a 19-1 record. And, just like his rookie season, he has led the Jumbos to a road victory over a previously undefeated RIT squad in the semifinals. Now he gets another crack at the Salisbury team that chased him four years ago.

"I'm so thrilled that I have this opportunity to play them again for the chance at a national title," Watkins said. "The last time we played them, I came away from the game with an empty feeling inside me. We just missed a huge opportunity to do something big, and knowing how that feels, I'm determined not to let it happen again. I'm determined to take advantage of this second opportunity because it doesn't come around often."

Heck, if Watkins can lead Tufts to a victory over Salisbury, his coach just might talk to him.

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