Inside the Development of Bryan Costabile, the Two-Way Midfielder

By Josh Schafer | Jul 30, 2020

Atlas Head Coach Ben Rubeor stuck the NCAA’s top offensive midfielder on defense. He told Bryan Costabile weeks back it’d be happening. But still at training camp the amount of defense Costabile played caught him by surprise. He’d played defense on the world stage at the U19 World Lacrosse Championships, and some two-way midfield at Notre Dame, but the player who scored more goals at midfield in one season than any other Notre Dame player was used to being the center of attention on offense.

“Right now we're playing you at a lot of defense,” Rubeor told Costabile. “But we really want you to play some offense and get those transition goals, whenever you have your matchups that you like.” 

Those matchups were frequent in Atlas’ most recent game against the Archers. Costabile, the second overall pick in the College Draft, netted four goals, including one two-pointer in the game. A two-time All-American and 2019 ACC Player of the Year, Costabile noted that he hasn’t dodged on a short stick since his freshman season at Notre Dame. 

He’s barely seen a long pole yet and that’s due in part to an experienced Atlas midfield that features players like Paul Rabil and Connor Buczek but it’s also been part of Rubeor’s strategy all along. If Costabile can stay on the field as Atlas transitions from defense to offense, someone already on the field will likely cover him, meaning an offensive midfielder, not a short-stick defensive midfielder or long pole, is tasked with stopping Costabile. If teams continue to slide slowly and not pole Costabile, it’s likely his scoring spree (he’s currently tied for a league-leading five goals) will continue starting with the Atlas next game on Thursday night against the Whipsnakes at 7 p.m E.T. 

“I think I'm a really good offensive player, they put me at defense and instead of sitting there whining and being like ‘Wow, this is unfair,’ I just get over my own mental aspect,” Costabile said. “I need to help out the team any way we can, so that I can play and try to just play the best defense that I can, or play the best transition game I can and that's what I've been trying to make myself do.”

The art of a shooter 

Costabile has always been fast, but he needed his hands to keep up with his feet. When Costabile first started working with Torre Kasemeyer, a shooting coach guru who’s also worked with PLL pros Deemer Class and Ryan Brown, he shot with his hands not with his whole body. 

The pair met around Costabile’s freshman year of college and his shooting was reminiscent of a golf swing without any shoulder turn. Costabile would outrun his opponents but not bring that momentum into his shot. So Kasemeyer showed Costabile how to drop his hands back behind his body and bring them through all while attacking the cage as directly as possible. 

The front of Costabile’s body served as a clock. If he could swing his stick from the 11 o’clock down through the five, it’d be the most efficient path and keep the most power in his shot. He became obsessed with shooting. Kasemeyer refers to him as a “dog that runs himself to death,” and Notre Dame Head Coach Kevin Corrigan used to stop Costabile from shooting extra after practice so he wouldn’t get injured. 

It was just that it was all coming together and Costabile loved continuously working on something new. The rotational efficiency had made him better but developing deception made him ready for the PLL, Kasemeyer said. It’s as simple as labeling the corners of the net one through four. The top left corner is one and the bottom left is three. Most players drop their hands lower to shoot high or bring their hands up to shoot low. With hands cocked back high and tight behind his ear, Costabile can hit either the one or three or vice versa on the other side, with the same velocity.  

Because he starts with his hands in the same position, Costabile’s shooting motion doesn’t look different to a goalie whether it’s going to the top corner or the bottom corner. Add in a shoulder dip and some deception with the eyes and the goalie doesn’t know where Costabile’s shooting. 

Costabile and Kasemeyer drilled this concept specifically the day before he left for Utah. If Costabile could sell the bottom corner with his eyes, shoulders and hands, the goalie would squat down. By the time the ball is released, it’s too late. He can’t recover from preparing for a low shot to save a top corner hammer. 

“(Goalies) get no prior warning,” Kasemeyer explained. “(The goalie) has to wait for the ball to come out of a guy's stick...it’s like a quarterback with no pre-snap read.”

In Costabile’s second PLL game, he scored a goal on that exact play. Watch the goalie squat then attempt to readjust late to a shot he never saw going top left. 

Costabile the defender

It didn’t take long for Atlas LSM Kyle Hartzell to realize Costabile would be just fine on the defensive side of the ball. In one of Costabile's first defensive runs of training camp, Buczek dodged on him. In reality, the 6’2, 215-pound midfielder tried to dodge on Costabile but never completed his move. Instead, he ended up on the ground and Costabile scooped the ball headed the other direction. 

He did similar to Tom Schreiber in Atlas’ most recent game. He learned the technique from Buczek himself who explained that at the pro level a defensive midfielder has to direct the opposition. Players are too quick and skilled to let them dictate what the defender will do. Costabile’s ability to grasp that concept and guide his man away from dangerous areas has led to him needing limited slide help through two games, long-stick midfielder Kyle Hartzell said.

“People always look at me and say, ‘Oh, an offensive middie. He shouldn't be down here, I'm going to take this guy to the rack,’” Costabile said. “I really like when people do that because I'm able to get up on people and really try and show them that I'm stronger, and you can't really just run through me.”

Costabile’s stalwart defense as a short-stick midfielder isn’t something he sees on the other side of the field that often. He has a quick first step and knows how to roll dodge once his defender is out of position, or slip underneath when the roll dodge isn’t there. 

That’s the thing about Costabile. He’s a smart player, his coaches and teammates say, so he’s going to read where the slides are coming from or if they’re coming at all. Then he’ll know where his defender is leaning toward and snap back the other way before tricking the goalie once more. 

If they're not going to respect me enough to slide to that, then I'm going to shoot that all day,” Costabile told the NBC Sports sideline reporter after a goal. 

He’s made his point. Teams will have to start sliding. Just know that probably won’t stop him either. He spent the last offseason taking 200 shots a day with his left hand. It was supposed to be a big addition to his last season at Notre Dame. Teams would stop his right. They’d stop his roll dodge. But his left hand? 

“Nobody will slide to his left hand,” Kasemeyer said. 

And when nobody slides to Costabile, bad things happen for the defense.