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LAX Seals' Staats putting up big numbers, exciting fans in rookie season

SDRay

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https://www.sandiegouniontribune.co...eals-rookie-austin-staats-20190207-story.html

The early fate of the San Diego Seals came down to a coin toss.
At halftime of last year’s National Lacrosse League championship game between Saskatchewan and Rochester, Patrick Merrill, the coach and general manager of the expansion Seals, met at center circle with his counterpart from the other incoming team, the Philadelphia Wings.
A coin was flipped, with the winner getting the right to pick first overall in the NLL’s entry draft. As it tumbled through the air, Merrill’s stomach tightened.
“I think I was a nervous for that coin flip as I was for our first game at Colorado,” Merrill recalled with a laugh this week. “That’s how important it was to me in building this team.”

The Seals won the toss, and in doing so got the ability to choose a 20-year-old forward who has been called a once-in-a-generation player.
Austin Staats has been everything the Seals hoped, scoring goals at an impressive rate while also being an emotional leader who has so far electrified the enthusiastic crowds for two home games at Pechanga Arena San Diego.
The Seals, who are 4-2 and in first place in the NLL’s West Division, play their only home game of the month at 7 p.m. Friday against the Vancouver Warriors (2-6).
Staats (pronounced stotts) leads the Seals in goals with 18 (Casey Jackson is next with nine) and points with 31. Those totals are the best among rookies in the league, with Philadelphia’s first pick, Chris Cloutier, having 24 points (seven goals) in one more game played.

Philadelphia’s record thus far: 1-6.
“It was a strong draft, and there were a few really, really good guys to choose from,” Merrill said. “But getting the pick of the litter was important to us. We believed that Austin could potentially be the best first overall pick in a long time, and we wanted to build around him.
“The position he plays is very important. To get a high-end lefty offensive player to build around in year one … some teams go 10 years without getting one. For us to be able to start with that caliber of player at the position was huge.”
Merrill was more than an interested observer to Staats’ career before this season. He coached Staats on the Six Nations (Ontario) team in Canada that won the nation’s biggest junior men’s lacrosse prize, the Minto Cup.

Staats has been a winner everywhere he’s played. He captured three Minto Cups, including earning MVP honors in 2017; a Mann Cup, the Senior A championship in Canada; and two national field championships for Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, N.Y.
Last season, Staats averaged nearly four goals and six points a game for the Lazers while earning his second straight All-American honors.
At the 2018 FIL World Lacrosse Championships, where his team won a bronze medal, Staats was named to the All-World team. That honor led to big recognition this week, when Staats became the first lacrosse player ever to be awarded World Games Athlete of the Month for his torrid start with the Seals.
Known for being physical and highly confident on the field, while carrying a good-natured demeanor off it, Staats is soaking up the attention.
Wearing a T-shirt, board shorts and Vans on a rainy day this week, he sat for an interview in the top-floor suite of the Seals’ office building near Westfield UTC. It is worlds away from the Six Nations reservation on which he grew up.
“This is good stuff for me, right?” Staats said with wide smile. “It’s cool. I’ve never had this before. I came from a small reservation in southern Ontario that no one even knows about. So it’s big to have other people say nice things about me. It’s all about how I take it. I’ve got to prove something to these guys, and hopefully I can keep it up.”
Growing up in an area where nearly every kid played lacrosse or hockey, and usually both, Austin was schooled in the game by his father, an iron worker who played at the junior level, and older brother by six years, Randy, who plays for the Georgia Swarm and currently leads the NLL in scoring with 18 goals and 56 points in nine games.
The father and his two sons had season tickets to the NLL’s Buffalo Bandits, regularly making two-hour roundtrips to watch them play.
The little brother describes Randy as “Mr. Clutch” as a scorer, but the same has been said about Austin.
“He has a will to win that’s through the roof,” Merrill said. “In practice or during a game, the way he carries himself, he’d do anything to win.”
Austin Staats displayed that early for the San Diego fans. At 6 feet and 200 pounds, he can throw his body around, and in a home game against Calgary, Staats dug a ball out of the corner, moved with his back to the goal with two defenders draped on him, and somehow managed a low, backhand flip between the goaltender’s pads.
The tally tied the game at 2, and the Seals went on to win 15-9, with Staats getting three goals and three assists.
Merrill said the rookie has received some razzing from teammates who are as much as 17 years older, but many of those players were also the ones who implored the coach to draft Staats. Merrill said Staats wasn’t afraid to mix it up with the veterans right away, but showed them due reverence, too.
“Confidence is having faith in what your ability is,” Staats said. “Cocky is the guy who brags about himself to everyone and doesn’t stay humble. I think I do well. I don’t really talk about myself that much unless somebody brings it up.”
Merrill is betting Staats’ rise as a standout athlete in San Diego is only just beginning.
“He’s embracing the fact,” he said, “that he wants to be a star in this town.”
Vancouver at Seals
Friday: 7 p.m. at Pechanga Arena San Diego
Seals update: Expansion San Diego leads the National Lacrosse League’s West Division with a 4-2 record, though the Seals have played two fewer games than several teams. The Seals haven’t played since Jan. 19, when they won in Vancouver to notch victories on back-to-back nights. They are 2-0 at home thus far and take on a Vancouver team they edged 11-10 in the last meeting. Rookie Austin Staats is the leading scorer (18g, 13a), followed by Dan Dawson (8g, 17a). Goalie Frank Scigliano ranks sixth in the league with an 11.00 GAA.
Warriors update: Vancouver is 2-6 overall (three games behind the Seals) and 1-3 on the road. The Warriors have allowed the second-most goals in the league at 96. Mitch Jones is the team’s leading scorer with 14 goals and 23 assists.
 

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