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ric Fannell’s reputation — intimidating, aloof, with the lore of an unseen Canadian talent — preceded him. And in some ways, people were right about him. The kid dressed in all black and wore his hat low, covering a buzz cut. He kept answers about himself to one word, avoided eye contact.

Fannell, as Ohio State men’s lacrosse captain Tyler Pfister put it, was “rough around the edges.” That was Pfister’s first impression, at least, when he met his new teammate and helped him move into a one-bedroom apartment in August of 2015.

Coach Nick Myers tabbed Pfister, an Ohio native, to help with Fannell’s transition from St. Catharines, Ontario — by way of tiny Division III Adrian College in Michigan — to Columbus. Gradually, over the course of lunches three to four times a week, usually at Asian restaurants like Mark Pi’s on High Street, Fannell’s tough outer layers peeled away like flaky crust falling off an egg roll. Fannell’s father, Steve, a former

Team Canada member and National Lacrosse League pro, as many people in the tight-knit, blue-collar St. Catharines lacrosse community already knew, was and is a drug addict, and no longer in Eric’s life. They haven’t spoken in seven years. And, yes, while some teammates probably still don’t know, the younger Fannell battled addiction problems himself. He drank, he says, two to three times a week at age 14. It was enough that his grandfather, Lincoln, took him to Alcoholics Anonymous when Eric was in high school. “I was masking the pain of what I was going through,” Fannell said. “I was in a dark place.”


y no means is Fannell’s route to Ohio State, or any Division I lacrosse program, typical. Nor is he the usual late-bloomer in talent only.

In fact, a 2012 post asked if Fannell was “the next Mark Matthews,” in reference to the former Denver and current Saskatchewan Rush star. The article included YouTube highlight-reel goals while mentioning the then-18-year-old’s lacrosse resume. He had played for Team Ontario’s under-16 squad, which won the Canadian championship in 2011, was an all-star and led multiple leagues in scoring.


REALLY.” — Eric Fannell


College recruiters largely passed on Fannell, anyway, for sensible reasons — his history also included low grades and warning signs like allegedly getting in multiple fights in and out of school, to go with his unsettled home life. Fannell’s parents divorced when he was 4. He and his younger brother, Brad, lived with their mother, who also fought addiction, until his grandparents took Eric in when he was 16. Brad still lives with their mom.

Only then did Fannell begin to find his way. Living with his grandparents, he was a five- minute walk from St. Frances High School. Fannell’s path is proof that there is more than one way to reach the high-end college lacrosse world. Not everyone commits in eighth or ninth grade. Some need more time to develop. “He’s one of those people, not just in sport, but in life. He’s had

And, funny enough, the guy who, in his first drill of his first practice at Ohio State last January, scored a lefty between-the-legs goal and followed it by an over-the-shoulder try, started playing lacrosse as a box goalie. He also was a defenseman, just like his dad, in field lacrosse. But now, as the 23-year-old senior’s offensive streak and determination to make something better of himself off the field imply, he’s intent on writing his own story, even though what it is may not be obvious to everyone else. “Some guys may think I’m a little different, edgy or scary,” Fannell said, “but I love them just as much as I love anyone else on the team. If anyone ever needed anything, I would be there 100 percent. I love my teammates, coaches, anyone who has helped me here. I hope this season I can give back to the program, as much as it’s given to me.”


some tough times,” said Lincoln Fannell, who worked for more than 30 years as a toolmaker at a General Motors factory in St. Catharines — a city of about 130,000 located a 15-minute drive west of Niagara Falls on the southwestern edge of Lake Ontario. He also is the longtime volunteer president of St. Catharines Minor Lacrosse. “Never give up. Even if you’re in some tough situations, like a lot of people are, there’s always a hope. But you have to be willing to work for it.”

In his first year with the Buckeyes last spring, the 6-foot- 1, 220-pound Fannell heated up in the season’s second half. In 15 games, he finished with 24 points, third on the team, creating higher expectations this season. (This fall, he scored five goals with an assist in a scrimmage against North Carolina.) He posted a GPA north of 3.0, too. “He’s the best player nobody knows about,” one rival coach said this offseason.

Fannell spent his first two years of college at Adrian, a school of 1,200 undergrads in south-central Michigan, one

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