- The Washington Times - Friday, May 15, 2009

CHARLOTTESVILLE | It’s only natural that a young athlete from New England would take a lesson or two from Bill Belichick.

Virginia’s Chad Gaudet puts them to good use.

The Massachusetts native constantly heard the New England Patriots coach praise the value of versatility, traits the likes of Troy Brown and Mike Vrabel embodied during the franchise’s long run among the NFL’s elite. Gaudet, a transfer who provided answers to the top-seeded Cavaliers’ faceoff quandary, did the same this spring.

“Just as far as adding value to a team, the more things you can do, the better,” said Gaudet, who has won 55.9 percent of his attempts and leads Virginia with 93 ground balls.

Gaudet possesses a rare skill set — a long pole who faces off. Jake Deane helped Massachusetts reach the national title game in 2006 with his efficiency on the draw, and Gaudet learned how to use a pole on faceoffs as a teammate at the Middlesex School of Robert Cotter, who went on to play at Brown.

It was something new for Virginia (14-2), which meets eighth-seeded Johns Hopkins (10-4) in Sunday’s NCAA quarterfinals in Annapolis. Coach Dom Starsia had never relied on a pole to handle faceoffs and wasn’t sure how heavily he would use Gaudet, who is completing a one-year master’s degree program at Virginia after playing two seasons at Dartmouth.

Yet the Cavaliers won just 49.9 percent of their draws a year ago, a troubling figure for a team that was a goal away from playing for a national title. And Gaudet continued to impress through the fall and start of preseason practice.

Starsia, though, was initially concerned about the difficulty of removing one of his close defenseman. With a limit of four poles on the field at a time and reliable veteran Mike Timms on the wing, either Ken Clausen, Matt Kelly or Ryan Nizolek had to come off the field.

The upside, though, was too promising to pass up.

“The main thing is winning the faceoffs,” Starsia said. “So if he was doing it with a shovel, we would try to figure out how to make it happen.”

It’s precisely what Gaudet has done, finishing a quirky collegiate odyssey. He started off as a tailback at Dartmouth, and true to his multifaceted roots, offered to return kicks and even had a few option pass attempts. But on the Big Green’s first play from scrimmage in 2005, Gaudet suffered a fracture of his left tibia.

He underwent a bone graft and had a pin and screw inserted, but his leg’s stability couldn’t be assured if he continued to play football. So he returned to lacrosse, playing first as a short-stick midfielder and then last spring as a long pole.

The switch helped him win 56 percent of his attempts in 2008, even if a long pole on faceoffs is a little unconventional.

“It’s a little tougher on the actual draw itself with hand speed, but once the ball is actually outside the ‘X,’ it’s a little easier to make a play on it if you don’t necessarily put it where you want to,” Gaudet said. “You can challenge the ground ball and contest it, and that’s where we really excelled this year.”

Gaudet’s presence changed the tenor of several games, including Sunday’s opening-round rout of Villanova. He won 14 of 17 faceoffs against the Wildcats, and Starsia has taken to using the speedy Rhamel Bratton on the wing to find another way to ignite the offense.

Gaudet, though, lends more than a little athleticism of his own, enough to give him a chance to return home. There, he could play for a national title on Belichick’s field and possibly match the championship earned by his brother Ross, a freshman on Boston University’s hockey team — all while providing a little of everything for the Cavaliers.

“We were so young at the faceoff ‘X,’ and those guys saw him coming in as a fifth-year guy who’s tough, athletic and competitive, and it kind of set the tone,” Timms said. “It’s overall toughened us up in the middle third of the field.”

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