NLL Defensive Player of the Year Nomination: Graeme Hossack and Jake WithersJun 23, 2020
Rewind to the 2015 NLL Draft, and you will see a list of players who have left their mark on the league in the years since hearing their names called to the stage. The likes of Lyle Thompson, Randy Staats, Wes Berg, Jesse King and more, were part of one of the best draft years in the past decade. With the second overall pick that year, Curt Styres opted to pass on the offensive side of the ball, and select Graeme Hossack, a 6’1” wrecking ball from Lindenwood University.
Fast forward to the 2017 Draft, and again Curt Styres had a difficult decision to make with the second overall pick. With what seemed to stun some analysts, Styres and his staff again opted in favour of the defense, this time selecting Jake Withers from THE Ohio State University.
As fate would have it, Withers would earn Rookie of the Year honours that year, and Graeme Hossack would go on to win back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Awards in his first four seasons in the National Lacrosse League. Both Withers and Hossack sit comfortably in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year, following a shortened 2019-20 season.
With all the hype surrounding the Thunderbirds first regular season game in Halifax, all it took was a total of eight seconds for Jake Withers to win the opening drawn, get the edge on his opponents, and score the first goal in team history. Withers would go 16-18 in his Halifax debut, and finish out an inaugural season winning .780% of his draws.
In his young career, Withers has not only found success at the X, but absolutely dominated his opponents with a career win percentage of .727%. In 1,094 attempts, Withers has won 796 face-offs and collected 461 looseballs. His 2019-20 stats were on pace to obliterate his previous two seasons worth of work, falling just 37 wins shy of his career high in 2018 (279), and 19 loose balls short of his 2018-19 total.
When asked about his nomination Withers said, “It is such an honor to be even considered for this award, but I wouldn’t be in the position to be nominated if it wasn’t for my teammates. They put me in good situations every single game to be able to play the way I play and have as much success as I can on the floor. Without my teammates and coaches, especially our D coach Billy, I wouldn’t achieve anything individually, so thank you to all of them. This nomination is a by-product of their hard work and effort every single practice, game or film session.”
For Graeme Hossack, it is scary to think that the back-to-back NLL Defensive Player could get any better, but for the human “Cyborg” 2019 proved that not only is Hossack getting better, he has yet to scratch the surface of his prime. His fifth season of play in the NLL has arguably been his most dominant yet, on pace to break records in goals, assists, points, looseballs, and cause turnovers.
In just 12 games Hossack tallied 9 goals and 9 assists gathering 107 loose balls, and logged a staggering 27:32 minutes of floor time, second only to Kiel Matisz of the Philadelphia Wings. His presence on the floor is noticeable to everyone in the building, running through offensive players with ease, pushing the floor in transition, and scoring goals not typically seen by defensive players.
In addition to his nomination for Defensive Player of the Year, Hossack has also been nominated for the league’s MVP Award, an award that has not been handed out to a defensive player since goaltender, Steve Dietrich, in 2006, and Jim Veltman in 2004. Hossack’s name has even been brought up in regards to Transition Player of the Year, as his dominance on both ends of the floor was at a career high in 2019.
For Hossack, winning Defensive Player of the Year is nothing he takes for granted. “It's always an honor to be nominated among the best defensive players in the league. There are some really great players nominated. I owe a lot to my teammates who make my job easier. Everyone trusted the systems and gave it their all to the last second of each game.”
When asked about his MVP nomination, Hossack said, “I am surprised and honoured to even be considered in this elite list of players. I don’t think this would have been possible without my coaches pushing each of us to perform at our best as well as the effort that all of my teammates have put into this season. I am able to trust everyone to do their job and it allows me to just play my game.”
Coach Accursi and his staff have the ability to craft their lineup knowing that they have two anchors on defense that will not only excel at their job, but will make the players around them better. With time, it would be no surprise to see the trophy case for Withers and Hossack expand, as they both hit stride into their prime.
Fans can check in the with @NLL on all social platforms next week for the finalists in each category of the 2019-20 league awards. To learn more about the Thunderbirds nominations, check in daily @HFXthunderbirds, and at HalifaxThunderbirds.com.