Blue-Collar Blue-Chipper

No-frills approach helps Country Day’s Radford excel

It probably isn’t a surprise to folks in Michael Radford’s neighborhood to hear that he cares more about substance than style when he’s on the lacrosse field.

The Charlotte Country Day star proved that roughly a decade ago, when his family first moved into the neighborhood and kids were running around with sticks playing a sport Radford never had seen.

“I didn’t really know what lacrosse was, but I started making friends with the other kids and I told my dad, ‘I want to get this stick – it’s called lacrosse,’” Radford recalled. “My dad was like, ‘What is that?’ But we went to Dick’s (Sporting Goods) and got a stick, and we bought a helmet.”

Only one problem.

“My dad actually bought me a hockey helmet,” Radford said with a laugh. “So I got out there, and I had my hockey helmet on, and (the other kids) laughed at me. They thought it was hilarious. They were like, ‘Michael, what are you doing?!’

“But I didn’t care. It was fun, so I kept playing in the hockey helmet.”

After a while, Radford became one of the best young players on his block, even if his headgear made him stand out in a different way. But his love for lacrosse – and desire to focus on the game rather than the glamour – had been established.

It’s an approach that followed Radford through MVP seasons in the Charlotte Youth Lacrosse Association to a successful run through tradition-rich Charlotte Country Day’s middle-school program to his current status as one of the top players in Mecklenburg County, if not the state.

Radford is the leading faceoff midfielder for Charlotte Country Day, which begins its quest for a fifth consecutive private-school state championship on Friday, March 2 at home against Charlotte Catholic.

Although he’s just beginning his junior season, Radford has attracted recruiting interest from a number of college lacrosse programs. He already has a scholarship offer from High Point University, and he recently took an unofficial visit to Ohio State. And programs such as Rutgers (N.J.), Rollins (Fla.), Salisbury (Md.), Jacksonville (Fla.), Virginia Military and Air Force are among the other schools that have contacted Radford thus far.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder is gifted athletically and possesses stick skills that helped him score 28 goals and dish out 11 assists as a sophomore on last year’s N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association championship squad. But Radford seems to take the most pride in his blue-collard approach to the game, which he said is a major reason he’s able to win so many faceoffs for the Bucs.

“Really, it’s just work,” said Radford, who also corralled 80 ground balls in 2011. “Sometimes, it’s just a mind-set. You really just have to go into the faceoff thinking, ‘I’m going to beat him. I’m not going to let him get the ball, no matter what.’

“But what it really comes down to, I believe, is practice. The more you faceoff, the better you will get. After the season, I took off for a little bit. Then I went to a camp, and I wasn’t so good at faceoffs. You just have to keep doing it. You get used to being down there on the ground.”

Radford hopes his willingness to get down and dirty will be a clear signal for his teammates, who’ll help comprise one of the youngest Country Day rosters in recent memory.  But after biding his time last year behind senior statesmen such as all-American Thomas Passenant and all-state choices Wake Hamilton and Derek Passenant, Radford embraces his new role as the all-around leader of the squad this season.

It’s a job he’s coveted since he was a Country Day lower-school student idolizing former Buc stars such as Tom D’Alessandro and Hedley Jennings as they walked across campus.

“When I was in fifth grade, sixth grade, I came to camps at Country Day, and I was obsessed with all the varsity guys,” he said. “I thought they were the coolest people in the world. I always aspired to be a varsity player and win a state championship. Now, being in this position feels really good. I’ve got to step up and try to be a leader.”

Country Day coach Brad Touma said he believes Radford is equipped to handle the job as the Bucs’ leader, largely because, in spite of his many physical gifts, he’s been willing to pay his dues in the program’s rich tradition of strong players and leaders.

“It’s something we’ve really tried to build here at Country Day,” Touma said. “As we structure our seventh-grade team, eighth-grade team and JV team, each year each team has players at different positions that are sort of waiting for their chance at the varsity level. Michael’s a great example of that. When Michael was a ninth-grader, David D’Alessandro was a senior in front of him. So Michael played on the JV – perhaps he could’ve played on the varsity, but we figured we’d put him on the JV so he could get all the reps down there. When David graduated, Michael was able to jump right into that role as the face-off midfielder, which is a huge role. It’s sort of like your center (in football).

“We’ll have a lot of new faces on our team this year, but I think Michael’s comfortable with that role as a leader now. And the other players on the team respect him, and they will follow him.”

Radford played a similar role with the Country Day football team last fall as the quarterback, helping the Bucs to the state championship game in his first season as a starter. He was one of southern Mecklenburg’s top dual-threat signal-callers, passing for 1,519 yards and 14 touchdowns to go with 750 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing. As a result, he’s drawing recruiting interest from college football coaches, too.

Radford and his father, also named Michael, have devised a system to handle all the wooing from college coaches. They’ve created an e-mail address specifically for the lacrosse and football scouts.

“We both read the e-mails, and we sit down and put them in categories, starting with the schools I like,” Radford said. “I try to keep all the options open that I can, because you never know what might happen or what you’re going to really like. I’m not sure which sport I want to keep doing in college. My parents and I are trying to figure that out. It’s hard.”

Thus far, Radford said, he’s exchanged e-mail with football coaches from North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State and Furman.

“They all want me to come to camps so they can evaluate me,” Radford said, “and I hope to go to Clemson’s camp this summer.

“Right now, I’m just going season by season. If it’s football season, I’m doing football. If it’s lacrosse season, I’m doing lacrosse. It’s lacrosse season right now, so I’m really focused on trying to help my team win another state championship.

“And when lacrosse is over and the summer comes,” he added, “I’ll probably do football (camps).”

And not that it matters to Radford, but at least now he knows what kind of helmet to bring.

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