There Dan Vinson stood. Blood was trickling down his face from the open wound on his forehead, and his eyes slowly rolled to the back of his head. His face was flushed and he struggled to keep his balance as he stood on the football field that clear fall morning. He looked less like a Georgetown student and more like a character from a Russell Crowe action movie.

What was supposed to be a routine lift had gone horribly wrong, with Vinson hitting himself in the forehead with a barbell. One likely concussion and a gash across the forehead later, he found himself sitting on a trainer’s table at the Multi-Sport Facility during the early morning football practice getting checked out by the medical staff.

“I just remember sitting down on the trainers table, and it was just tunnel vision,” Vinson recalls. “I started to pass out, dry heaving and the next thing I know, I was in an ambulance. I got stitches – like four or five – and I had class right after that.”

A lesser person would have gotten some rest after a day like that, but not Vinson.

“Later that afternoon I went back [to the weight room] and finished what I needed to do with Coach [Michael] Unger and Augie [Morelli],” he says. “It was more a mental thing.”

With that, Vinson summed up his entire lacrosse career.

Never the biggest or most skilled player, he has overcome obstacle after obstacle, outworking his competition to become a starter on a top-five Division I lacrosse team.

“The fact that he’s playing right now, it’s no secret that pretty much 99.9 percent of that is because he was willing to outwork everyone else,” senior goalkeeper Miles Kass said of his teammate.

Growing up in Pleasant Hill, Calif., Vinson was not offered the opportunity to play youth lacrosse like many of his Georgetown teammates. Instead, he opted to play a variety of sports, focusing the majority of time on hockey.

It was at hockey camps on the East Coast that he first heard of lacrosse, but in 2000 when he entered De La Salle High School, in Concord, Calif., they did not have a program.

In spring of his freshman year, however, Vinson got his chance to play when Coach Bob O’Meara came in to start a lacrosse program at De La Salle. With only two players who had ever played lacrosse before, the Spartans experienced a few bumps in the road during that inaugural season. His mother Sandra Vinson remembers the first time she saw her son play lacrosse.

“The first year for him was kind of funny because no one had played before, and they were learning how to play,” she said in a phone interview. “It looked like a bunch of kids running around with sticks with butterfly nets, but they got better and better.”

De La Salle is known nationally for its football program that won a record 151 straight games and five national championships from 1992 to 2005. Vinson said that he and his teammates looked to the football team for inspiration in building their lacrosse program.

“The football team, you look at those guys and none of them are really that big, but they work harder than almost any other team out there, and they take a lot of pride in that,” Vinson says. “I think the lacrosse team tried to do that when I was there, and I think they’re continuing to do so now.”

His hard work eventually paid off, and in the next four years, Vinson was twice named an all-American. But because he played in California and not the lacrosse hot beds like Maryland or upstate New York, Vinson was not recruited by any Division I programs. With lacrosse out of the equation, Vinson’s college decision became purely academic.

“Georgetown was the first school I heard back from, and it came down to Georgetown and UC Santa Barbara,” Vinson remembers. “I kind of knew the whole time I was going to pick Georgetown, but it was hard to say for sure. I remember our senior night game – they wanted to announce where you’re going. I remember looking at Bob [O’Meara], and we kind of both knew it was Georgetown, so I think that was the defining moment.”

Vinson’s dream of playing Division I lacrosse had not diminished, however, and during his freshman year at Georgetown, he contacted Head Coach Dave Urick and was invited to try out in the fall. He entered his tryout without illusions of being a star, or even a starter for that matter, with his goal solely to land a spot on the team. Unfortunately, with faceoff specialist Andy Corno – arguably the best to roam the faceoff X in the history of collegiate lacrosse – entering the final season of his illustrious career and Christiaan Trunz as his heir apparent, there was no room on the roster for Vinson.

“It wasn’t like get out of here we never want to see you again,” Vinson says. “It was more like we think you can help us out, and we would like you to try again next year and keep working out.”

He took their advice to heart and immediately set up a training regimen with Morelli in order to get stronger and quicker for the next season’s tryouts.

A year later Vinson came back stronger, faster and with a greater sense of urgency. He said he knew if he did not make the team this time around, he would never play lacrosse in college. After keeping him on edge for a few weeks, Urick finally informed Vinson that he was officially a member of the Georgetown lacrosse team.

“There was no way we could cut him a second time, even though he probably wasn’t as skilled or as dynamic a lacrosse player as the guys we had,” Urick said. “He is just so doggone persistent. He’ll do anything we ask him to do.”

For the next two seasons, Vinson learned the intricacies of faceoffs from expert Trunz, but when the team broke for summer last May after losing to Johns Hopkins in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament, he had only four game appearances to show for all of his hard work.

“[The games are] only an hour out of however much time we put in, and sometimes you would get bummed out watching, but the guys out there are out there for a reason,” he says.

While most of his teammates spent their summers working out, Vinson took a different route to get prepared for this season. A self-proclaimed outdoors enthusiast, he got an internship through the Student Conservation Association to be a backcountry ranger at Sequoia National Forest in California. Vinson hiked everyday and got his workout while on the job. (Think Rocky IV training montage minus the snow and ’80s music.)

“He actually went down there a week earlier than they wanted him,” his mother said. “He was just anxious to get out so he went down in the beginning of June. He had a partner from Ohio, and they pretty much went out in the back country and they would be there for so many days. . He had a pretty interesting experience.”

Urick remembers seeing Vinson for the first time this fall after his time in the forest.

“I think he fights forest fires in the summer,” Urick said. “Last summer, he came back, and he looked like he spent the summer in the mountains somewhere. He looked like Man Mountain Dean.”

His workouts may have been unconventional and primitive, but they paid off as he found himself with an opportunity to take a share of the faceoffs for the Hoyas. Urick was looking for a solution to his team’s faceoff woes, and with Georgetown sitting with a 1-2 record heading into a pivotal clash with eighth-ranked Delaware, Urick turned to the most resilient player on his roster for a boost.

“I asked Brian Tabb before the game against Delaware, `Who gives you the most problems in practice?’ He didn’t hesitate, he said, `Vinny,'” Urick said about the decision to give Vinson some time at the faceoff X. “So we tried Vinny in the Delaware game, and he had some success initially so we kept going with him. We might have gone a little too long because at one point I looked over and he was running on his tongue, so we had to pull him back a little bit.”

Vinson recalls the difference in the tempo from practice to the game speed he experienced against Delaware.

“I remember after the Delaware game I was exhausted,” he says. “It was a totally different game speed. You run harder and everything than you do in practice. I’m just starting to adjust to that because I hadn’t really played in a game since my senior year of high school.”

Vinson went an impressive 11-for-20 on faceoffs in the game to spark Georgetown to an 18-10 rout. The next week the Hoyas again faced a top-10 team, but this time it was the undefeated and top-ranked Duke Blue Devils.

The day before the game, Vinson was told he would be starting at the X. For Vinson, it was the culmination of seven years of hard work. The kid from California that no Division I program wanted was about to start against the best team in the nation.

There was a large crowd of 2,412 in attendance at the Multi-Sport Facility, and Vinson says he will never forget the feelings he had during the opening faceoff.

“There was all the hype surrounding the game, and it was weird because when you go out there – you and the other guy are in your own little world,” he said. “People are always saying, `Oh, did you hear me?’ You don’t even almost hear the crowd, you’re totally focused. The best way to describe it is like in the movie “300” – that heightened sense of awareness.”

It is an apt description for someone whose high school mascot was a Spartan and who often exhibits determination worthy of a Spartan warrior.

Vinson did well again, going 7-for-14 from the X as the Hoyas shocked the Blue Devils 11-7. Since then, Vinson has settled into his role and continued to excel, going a combined 18-for-30 on faceoffs in back-to-back wins over Navy and Mount St. Mary’s.

Vinson has become something of a celebrity in the lacrosse community in his home state of California, and he continues to be a legend at De La Salle. The front page of the Spartan’s lacrosse Web site is complete with a picture of Vinson facing off and a headline updating visitors on his and Georgetown’s results from the previous game.

“He’s kind of a legend around our school,” O’Meara said. “When we hand out jerseys, I’ll remind the players what senior wore that jersey before. A lot of guys have picked up number four, which was his number, and when I tell them it was Vinson’s they put it down and pick up another number because they didn’t feel they could live up to his standard.”

Even with his newfound fame, Vinson has stayed humble and continued to work hard. His focus is now on clinching an ECAC league title and continuing to improve at the X.

“Facing off is an important part of the game, and Georgetown has always been kind of dominant at it,” he says. “Hopefully Brian [Tabb], myself and [Michael] Shotwell can get that return to dominance at the position.”

Urick said he understands how lucky he is to have a player as special as Vinson.

“He’s one of those guys who is just an inspiration to the coaching staff and the players and hopefully he can give us a lift,” the 19-year head coach said.

With the NCAA tournament fast approaching, the Hoyas know they can rely on Vinson because, as he has proven time after time, no obstacle – whether it is getting cut from the team or a barbell to the forehead – is too big to overcome.

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