“Hunter. Are you in shape?”
The question from Jacksonville University head coach and Chrome goaltender John Galloway sat there for a split second before Hunter Forbes quickly answered, responding that he might actually be in the best shape of his life. That answer was exactly what Galloway was hoping for as he wrapped up the Monday morning staff zoom call.
“For some reason I started running with a buddy and really began to enjoy it,” Forbes said. “I really felt like I was in some of the best shape of my life.”
PLL rosters had been released and Galloway’s Chrome had only one faceoff athlete on the roster. With the potential to play seven games in a 16-day stretch it seemed likely that the team would be searching for someone to help share the load with second-year pro Connor Farrell.
Knowing his former faceoff man and current graduate assistant coach was indeed in shapee, Galloway started reaching out to coach Tim Soudan and the rest of the Chrome staff pitching the idea of Forbes becoming the newest member of the team.
Even two years removed from graduation, Forbes numbers spoke for themselves Galloway felt. A standout during his time at Jacksonville setting all sorts of school and conference records before ending his career by being named the 2018 SOCON Defensive Player of the year, Forbes had been drafted by the MLL’s Atlanta Blaze in the 5th round of the 2018 Draft, but had yet to get an opportunity to test himself in the pro game.
“I was a little discouraged after not dressing that summer,” said Forbes. “If that had been the end of my playing career it wasn’t the end of the world because I was really happy as a coach, but I was disappointed.”
For Galloway, watching his record setting face-off man miss out on the professional game was another example of Forbes not getting the respect he deserved.
“I was frustrated for him. He really wasn’t and didn’t get the recognition he deserved,” said Galloway. “Especially in college I felt he should have gotten some of the accolades but never did. He never let that get to him though.”
During his collegiate career Forbes was overshadowed by the likes of Atlas’ Trevor Baptiste and current Yale face-off man, TD Ierlan.
“I definitely play with a little chip on my shoulder because of it,” said Forbes. “I really developed over the course of my time at Jacksonville. I started off just kind of average and the last few years I really gained confidence and began to get a lot better.”
As Forbes gained confidence and improved he went from winning 55.2% of his faceoffs during his junior year, to winning 70.5% of draws his senior season. Ask him and there was one big change that led the way for Forbes new found success.
“I switched from moto grip and went back to neutral grip but I was still knee down,” said Forbes. “That just clicked through right away. I was quicker off the whistle, I was faster to clamp the ball. I just reaped a lot of benefits from that switch and it just made me all around better.”
The Atlanta native knew he would have to be even better than he was during his senior year though if he wanted his tenure at the professional ranks to last.
After that brief Monday morning conversation with John Galloway, Forbes got to work preparing himself for the chance to play in the PLL’s Championship Series, just in case his name got called. Forbes began working with Jacksonville Assistant Coach Tyler Granelli on the field for anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half multiple times a week, honing his game for Utah.
“We just went back to the basics at first, really focused on my footwork, agility, and conditioning,” said Forbes. “Once this opportunity came up and I started training with Coach Granelli, he really started getting me in shape. I started to zone in and about three-fourths of the way through the training I thought I felt better than I was in college. I was really happy with how I was performing and once I got to that point I was like “Okay. I really want to do this now. I got the confidence back and I think I can be one of the best guys in the league.”
The work Hunter was putting in, and the increase in his confidence didn’t go unnoticed by his former head coach.
“I saw what he was doing and how hard he was working,” said Galloway. “As he was conditioning and working with Coach Granelli his confidence grew and he really deserved to get a chance.”
Chrome Coach Tim Soudan gave Forbes that chance signing him at the waiver deadline, meaning Forbes was guaranteed a spot on the Chrome roster as the squad headed to Utah. Even though it will have been over two years since Hunter last played in a sanctioned game by the time he pulls on a Chrome jersey for the first time he feels he’s a better smarter player, and ready for the task.
“As a coach I’ve learned a lot more about the rest of the game and expanded my appreciation overall,” said Forbes. “I was never one of those guys who didn’t know too much about lacrosse except for faceoffs, but my appreciation for all aspects of the game has grown because of coaching.”
At the faceoff stripe Hunter’s mindset has changed slightly too as he prepares to face some of the top faceoff men in the world.
“I realized how important ground balls are and playing after the clamp,” Forbes said. “Clamp percentage doesn’t mean a lot unless you get the ground ball for your team and your team gets possession and a chance to score. That footwork, the ground ball work, being able to hockey it or goose it to a teammate is really important and that’s what we worked on. I hope it’s going to translate to the PLL nicely.”
Galloway has no doubt that his former protege turned teammate’s game will translate nicely to the PLL game.
“He’s a little ball of muscle,” Galloway chuckled. “Size-wise he might not jump off the page at you. He’s really developed his stick skills and he’s got a low center of gravity. He’s got that confidence you need in a faceoff guy. He knows how to make the safe plays too. He’s not selfish and realizes he doesn’t have to do things on his own. Hunter won’t turn the ball over because he’s trying to do too much and that’s a great trait for faceoff guys.”
“I get to be nothing but a lacrosse player for three weeks. That’s pretty cool and exciting,” Forbes said. “I’ve been working hard and I’m ready to test myself against the best players and faceoff guys in the world.”