Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Lacrosse bringing Kyle and Norm Smith together

Massachusetts men’s lacrosse attackman Kyle Smith constantly surveys the opposing defense when the Minutemen have the ball in their offensive zone.

In the matter of a possession, the ball is moved quickly from one end of the field to the other – in front of the net and behind it – as the opposition paces to keep up with the play.

As the motion of the offense continues to progress, Smith searches for a lane to open up, leaving a clear path to the net. That’s when he knows to make his back-door dart to the cage, while hauling in a feed from a teammate, to leave Smith with a point-blank shot on the doorsteps of the goal.

“It’s just like in basketball, like being a point guard, just knowing where everyone else is and knowing what to do three steps ahead of what the defense is giving you,” Smith said. “I think you just get that from playing for as long as I have.”

By now, this act is a natural instinct for Smith.

But then again, he was doing the exact same thing when he was 6 years old.

That’s when Smith, a senior from Longmeadow and his father, Norm, took a trip to Hofstra University to catch a Duke vs. North Carolina tilt. Norm and Kyle were seated behind the Tar Heels goal as the Blue Devils opened up a fast break heading in their direction.

As the fast break opened up, a Duke attackman – known solely as No. 17 as Norm retold the story – broke open heading towards the net.

“I’m sitting there to myself thinking, ‘Pass the ball to No. 17,’” Norm said.

As he’s criticizing the Blue Devil player in his head, Kyle belches from his seat, “Pass the ball to No. 17!”

Turns out, the Duke midfielder did not pass to No. 17, and the fast break came up empty.

Norm was taken aback.

“I’m like, ‘Wow. He sees the game just the way I see it,’” Norm said. “The knucklehead with the ball just blew the play, and my 6-year-old is telling him he’s gotta do something different.”

Kyle grew up in a family that cherished the sport of lacrosse. He’s the only child of a father that was an All-American player at UMass during the 70’s, and his grandfather, Neville Smith – Norm’s father – Is a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, and was also a charter member of the U.S. Club Lacrosse Association.

“It’s kind of like what we do,” Kyle said of the role lacrosse plays in his family. “We like playing lacrosse, we like following lacrosse, we like teaching lacrosse. (We’re) a big sports family, and lacrosse is our favorite sport.”

Favorite might be understating it.

According to Norm, when he and his wife, Sue Smith, brought Kyle home from the hospital after his birth, they laid Kyle in the crib with teddy bears, baby ducks and, of course, four little lacrosse sticks.

Norm always hoped Kyle would share his love for the sport, just as his own dad adored the sport before him.

“That might be an understatement,” Norm said. “My dad had a passion for the game, and you’re hopeful that maybe that passion will be shared.”

When Kyle started walking, he and Norm started playing catch in the backyard. Most fathers might be using gloves and a baseball, Norm said, but not he and Kyle. It was a stick and lacrosse ball.

As Kyle and Norm tossed the ball back and forth, so did their love of the sport. Norm always hoped Kyle would learn to love the game. Kyle played other sports, like basketball and football, but lacrosse was never a hard sell for Kyle.

“It was always lacrosse,” he said. “Lacrosse was my favorite.”

“There’s a phrase to the effect of, ‘There’s no greater joy for a dad than to delight in the success of his son,’” Norm said. “And speaking for both myself and my wife, I would tell you that’s probably how we feel.”

As Kyle started to get older, he attended his father’s games while holding his lacrosse stick in hand, pacing up and down the sidelines while taking in the action.

But Kyle’s role as a spectator dwindled as he became older and more involved in his own lacrosse games. All of a sudden, the roles were switched. Kyle was the one on the field, while Norm was the one watching from a distance.

Kyle shined at Longmeadow High School, racking up 65 goals and 37 assists in his senior year to earn All-American status. He also helped the Lancers to a 21-2 record and state championship during his junior year.

But as his tenure at Longmeadow came to an end, it was time for Kyle to decide where he wanted to play his collegiate lacrosse.

Norm said he and Sue stayed out of Kyle’s way as he weighed his options of where he wanted to go.

For Kyle, it never really was much of a decision. He would play for UMass and don the maroon and white uniform just as his father had just over 30 years before.

“I love the campus, love the education, love the school, love the program, love coach (Greg) Cannella,” Kyle said. “My parents wanted me to look around, weigh my options, but the whole time I knew I wanted to come here.”

When Norm found out Kyle was going to play for the Minutemen, he was ecstatic. Not only could Norm watch his son play on the same Garber Field he played on, but he’d have a unique vantage point for every game: up in the press box.

Norm is a color commentator for all UMass games broadcasted on television on CBS 3. From there, Norm has watched every single contest Kyle’s played as a Minuteman, and is up in the press box once again this season for Kyle’s senior campaign.

Norm said it’s “unbelievably cool” to see Kyle wearing the same uniform he wore back when he was playing for UMass.

“I’m very proud of him. He is a really good player, and it is really neat to just think how time has gone by, and certainly UMass meant the world to me, still means the world to me,” Norm said. “I think it’s a special place and I think Kyle’s starting to figure out that it’s a special place, too, and I think he’s appreciative of the opportunity and I think he’s taking full advantage of it.”

Kyle made a huge jump from his sophomore season to his junior year, leaping from 10 goals to 33 in 2012 to finish third on the team in scoring. Kyle was one of the most consistent scorers for the Minutemen, scoring in 14 of 16 affairs last year, while only being held pointless in one game. Kyle also racked up seven hat tricks last season.

Kyle said the key to his consistency is his focus and not dwelling on the previous game.

“It’s realizing what happened on that past Saturday doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s a new week, and that you’ve got another pretty good team coming up, and you’ve got to suit up and play against them.”

Heading into his final season, Kyle will be an integral factor in UMass’ run towards another Colonial Athletic Association title and NCAA Tournament bid. Kyle, who joins Will Manny as two of the Minutemen’s premier scoring threats, got his senior year off to a solid start Sunday with a goal and three assists in UMass’ 16-9 thumping of Army in its season opener.

Kyle said it hasn’t resonated with him that it’s his final season as a Minuteman, and wants to make the most of his final year and not have any regrets.

“Even though I do know it’s my last season, there’s definitely a sense of urgency, you don’t want to have regrets after its over and you want to end it on a good note,” Kyle said.

Norm has broadcasted multiple Senior Days in the press box, but never anything like he’ll face when Kyle steps on Garber Field for the final time in the regular season on April 26 against Delaware.

“I always say I think it’s tougher on the mothers, not on the fathers,” Norm said. “I’ve given it a little bit of thought, and my guess is I may have to eat my words. I think it’ll be if not tougher on me than his mom, just as tough.”

When his days at UMass are over, Kyle said he wants to continue to play the sport he loves. But even when Kyle’s playing days are over, the passion he and his family have for lacrosse won’t fade away.

“It’s brought us closer together over the years, so I think it will always be there between me and him,” Kyle said.

And for Kyle and Norm, lacrosse has been a centerpiece to a relationship that’s extended beyond father and son.

“It’s more than him just being my dad, he’s also like my best friend,” Kyle said.

Stephen Sellner can be reached at ssel[email protected] and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.

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