Favorite athlete: Paul Rabil
Favorite team: Eagles
Favorite memory competing in sports: Completing a full field goal during a game.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: I was running down the field to make a goal, and I tripped.
Music on mobile device: Rap and Country
Future plans: To become a police officer and coach lacrosse
Words to live by: “We are strong alone and unstoppable together as a team.”
One goal before turning 30: To win a national lacrosse championship
One thing people don’t know about me: My love for applesauce
By Ed Morrone
Robbie Kay insists that he isn’t crazy.
Perhaps crazy isn’t the correct word. After a quick chuckle, John Fitzpatrick, Kay’s lacrosse coach at Council Rock North, said that “moxie” might be a more apt description.
Either way, it takes a special kind of inner fortitude to stand inside the goalie crease and face shot after shot at point blank range, the velocity so fierce that the balls more resemble projectile missiles coming straight at Kay, who, as a lacrosse goalie, has just his eyes, stick and a minimal amount of padding to protect him from impact.
“Goalies in lacrosse, it’s just a different mentality,” Fitzpatrick said. “Not everybody can do it. You have to have moxie, and yes, even a little craziness, to step in front of that ball coming at you at around 85 miles per hour and stop it with your body. It’s definitely a unique position.
Perhaps making the story even more interesting is that before he came to North, Kay primarily played as an attackman on offense, which requires considerably more running around and is physical in its own right. However, had Kay stayed on offense, he might have finished his high school career with far fewer ball-shaped welts on his body. That said, coming into Kay’s freshman season four years ago, North needed goalie depth, and Kay happily, and perhaps a little crazily, volunteered his services.
“Well, I don’t think I’m crazy, but my parents, coaches and friends all might say otherwise,” Kay said. “I more look at it like, ‘Oh, I’m just the guy who has to step up and do that for the team.’ And when I have a game where I make 10 to 15 good saves, it’s an ecstatic feeling. I love that part of the game, being in the crease and making saves up close.
“This may sound a little rude to say, but I also just like making kids look bad out there, because that makes myself look a little better.”
All fair points. Kay also loved the idea of being a goalie because it requires the least amount of running, a fact that appealed greatly to him. Kay said he just “loves the rush of it.”
“The biggest thing to get used to is getting hit by the ball,” Kay said. “Listen, it hurts a lot. You’re the quarterback of the team, and your eyes get used to the perspective of seeing everything on the field. My eyes are always moving, and my head is constantly on a swivel. I’ve been told I have very good hand-eye coordination, and that made the transition from attack to goalie much less difficult. There were times early on when I hated it, but once you accept the transition and realize it makes you and the team look better in the long run, you really start enjoying the position.”
North’s incumbent goalie during Kay’s freshman season played for the football team and tore his ACL in the middle of that season, leaving Kay as the lone man left to step in immediately as a starting varsity lacrosse goalie in a league as rugged as the Suburban One.
“It was survival of the fittest,” Kay said.
By his estimation, Kay had a “decent” first year. North went 7-11 overall and 4-6 in SOL National play, but beyond the losing record, Kay maintained that being tossed directly into the fire made him a much more confident goalie in the long run. He started to enjoy the sport more while quickly realizing how steep the learning curve was at this level, which only pushed him to work harder in the offseason to improve his craft.
North’s incumbent goalie prior to Kay’s tenure returned from injury toward the end of his freshman campaign, and as a senior during Kay’s sophomore season, got more playing time. Again, he took his offseason training to another level, playing for a summer team and traveling to camps as far as two hours away to get instruction from elite goalie coaches who could help him take his game to the next level.
Kay said his squad lost 16 of 17 games that summer, but the record was irrelevant. Because his team was bad, that meant the volume of shots Kay faced in goal was off the charts.
“My dad keeps my stats on everything throughout the year, and I faced 600 to 700 shots that summer,” he said. “I saw so many different types of shots, and it got me more work. These coaches were pro players, the best in the world, and they helped me get my technique fixed while pushing me really hard. It got me so hyped heading into my junior year.”
That season, there was no competition in goal at North. The job was Kay’s, and he responded by helping North to a 9-10 overall record and a spot in the district playoffs, a feat that would be repeated this past senior season, when the team finished 10-7 in a difficult, talented league. Kay learned a lot about himself those two seasons, which ultimately paid off in him committing to continue his lacrosse career at Division III Bryn Athyn College, 20 miles northeast of Philadelphia.
“What I really learned is that mentally, you have to listen to what the coaches are pushing,” Kay said. “You also have to have a short memory. In a normal college game, even if you’re the best lacrosse goalie in the world, you’re still likely to give up 8 to 10 goals a game. If you let one in, you can’t let it get to your head, because then you start playing badly.”
Kay, who also wrestled for North his sophomore and junior years, was humbled by the recruiting process. He described himself as “a bigger kid,” and found out that some of the top programs he was looking at, schools like Bucknell and Montclair State, were seeking skinnier, stronger, fitter players to play goalie.
He decided a smaller school would be a better fit, and Kay loved the idea of being an athlete on campus that everyone knew as a dependable, winning player. He also said the environment at Bryn Athyn, a school with an enrollment of less than 500 students, felt like a close-knit family. When Kay and his family arrived on campus for a visit, they were greeted at the front door by head coach Tucker Durkin, a graduate of the elite lacrosse program at Johns Hopkins University and a 2017 member of Team USA.
When Kay attended a Bryn Athyn practice, Durkin brought him into the team huddle, introduced him to the team as a possible future player and asked the players to welcome Kay. Kay said the reaction was stunning.
“By the end of that practice, I knew every single player on the team,” he recalled. “They all introduced themselves, asked me about my high school team and just welcomed me. I visited another smaller local school, and afterward not a single kid said hello to me. I felt like I found my fit. These were really good, nice kids. The program has a great coach and a great facility. It’s just a nice, small school where I feel like I can become the guy that everyone knows.”
Off the field, Kay described himself as “an OK student” his first two years at North. He admitted to not pushing himself in the classroom early, thinking he could achieve his future goals simply on the back of his lacrosse talent. Around junior year, something changed in Kay; he had a realization that he had to apply himself more in school, knowing full well he didn’t want his academics to take away his opportunity to play lacrosse.
Kay said he gravitates toward math and science classes, and recently took some business classes with the assumption that he would major in that field at Bryn Athyn. However, he soon had a change of heart, choosing Psychology with the ultimate goal of becoming a police officer. Kay comes from a family of law enforcement and emergency responders: his father has been a firefighter for 35 years, his mother is a medic, both of his grandfathers were firefighters and he said about half of his remaining family, including several cousins, are police officers. Kay himself has been a volunteer firefighter since he was 14, the earliest age you can sign up to start learning about fire safety and emergency response.
“Growing up, I heard my cousins talk about how fun it is to be a police officer, even during bad times,” he said. “I think that I would really enjoy that.
“(Being a firefighter) has also been a bonding experience for my dad and I where we can share our similarities. I always enjoyed hanging around the firehouse as a kid, especially the big trucks. My dad has taught me a lot about safety, and so have many of the firefighters I’ve been around. It’s just been a big bonding experience for my family, and they’ve helped push me in the right direction.”
Fitzpatrick, Kay’s coach at North, got to the school four years ago, coinciding with Kay’s freshman year. The two have been attached at the hip since they both arrived on campus at the same time.
“It’s going to be very strange without him,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’ll miss him. He’s been my goalie throughout that time period, and it will be different not having that guy that comes in and gives you a chance to win every game. He anchored our defense, and I think he was one of the most underrated goalies in our league. He’s worked extremely hard to get to Bryn Athyn.
“And not only that, but he’s one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet. He truly is an ambassador to our sport, and he knows everybody in the lacrosse community. Off the field, he’s just very talkative and everybody at school knows him. He’s a bright spot, on and off the lacrosse field.”
While he’s beyond excited to get to Bryn Athyn and learn from a coach of Durkin’s caliber, Kay also knows that if not for these last four years, his lacrosse career likely would have ended before he even had a chance to realize his true potential.
“I’ll miss all of it,” Kay said. “We had fun doing everything together, whether it was bonding on the bus rides or just being out at practice together. I can leave North saying we made the playoffs my last three years. We never made it out of the first round, but it’s hard for any player to say he helped get his team to the postseason three consecutive years.
“The best part of it all was the memories I was able to make with the friends I made in elementary school and carrying that all the way through high school. Having a chance to keep playing with them through those years, it made my time at North that much more enjoyable.”