Lukas Buckley wanted to play college lacrosse in a new environment. Now, he’s fighting to return to his back yard.
Growing up in the shadows of Gillette Stadium, the Walpole, Mass., native knows a lot about success. A New England Patriots fan, he’s witnessed plenty of winning.
With a strong Xaverian Brothers High School program, he learned about making that a reality on the lacrosse field.
“I think for me, I focused in high school on being the best player I could,” Buckley said. “If I got the chance to play, great, but it was never a point where I was focused on where I was going to be too much.”
Buckley and Ohio State made it to the national championship game last season where they lost to conference rival Maryland. It wasn’t the outcome Buckley had imagined in his home stadium, where he’d witnessed greatness for many years.
In 2018, he and the Buckeyes are afforded an opportunity to return to Foxboro. With so many players from last year’s run graduated, he has to be an even bigger part of making that happen.
“There’s a commitment to a brotherhood,” he said. “We were all close last year and focused on relationships, and the lacrosse would follow.”
Buckley suited up last season as a redshirt freshman, appearing in all 21 games. He tallied 15 goals and six assists at attack, scoring twice in the quarterfinals en route to the title game.
After a stellar career at Xaverian in Westwood, Buckley had a chance to go pretty much anywhere. His career was coming to a close right around when there was a boom in New England lacrosse, meaning plenty of local programs were calling around.
Last month, Buckley played against a squad he easily could have ended up with: Boston University.
“When Boston got a program, I thought it was really neat for the area,” he said. “I went to some of their games in high school. It was cool to play a team from back home and see some familiar faces.”
A member of the Fighting Clams club team, Buckley honed his game in high school after dropping football and basketball. He had a stick in his hand since he was 6 years old, following in the footsteps of his older brother and his father, Robert, who played for New Hampshire in the 1970s and has been coaching the sport “forever.”
The success of Xaverian while Buckley was there was no accident. On the Hawks’ way to the 2013 state title, Buckley scored the overtime game-winner to propel them to that final.
“What has truly set him apart, and made him a Division 1 player, is his enormous discipline,” Xaverian coach Tim Gardner said. “He never stops working on stick skills and is committed to training in the weight room. He is a truly special kid when you combine his talent and discipline.”
He started all four seasons at Xaverian. He scored 58 goals as a junior and had 55 assists as just a sophomore. His senior year ended when he tore his ACL in the season opener against Boston College High.
Buckley really could have gone anywhere he set his mind to, but he felt an immediate connection with Ohio State.
“I looked around here and there, but I wanted to branch out a little bit and ended up in Ohio,” he said. “I did look around the area. I just (like) the commitment to excellence here, with an athletic program that’s really strong.”
That doesn’t mean ending up back home is a bad thing.
Returning home for last year’s championship bout meant he got to play in front of his family again. If the Buckeyes — who have had a strong start to the season with wins against Cleveland State, BU and Hofstra —return to the final four, it means he can play in front of his hometown once again.
“A lot of my buddies got to come see me play,” he said. “My grandparents were there, who don’t get to see me a lot. I’m a huge Patriots fan, so playing on Tom’s (Brady) front yard was a great experience.”
It’s not an easy path for Ohio State and coach Nick Myers (Kennebunk, Maine), who lost top talents such as Johnny Pearson and Austin Shanks. But, it just means that Buckley has to be on his game more than ever. With three consecutive wins to open the campaign, that same camaraderie is back, even with different leaders.
For Buckley, that starts with his own personal accountability on the field, and his team focusing on how it can keep improving.
“Anytime you can get wins, it’s good,” he said. “We focus on our own brand of lacrosse. We look at what we do wrong. We focus on what we can fix in our culture before we worry about momentum.”
Growing up in Walpole youth leagues, Buckley got started in lacrosse in an environment conducive to success. Behind his father and brother, Garrett, Buckley had a support system in place in the sport.
“Despite that he was so talented, even as a 140-pound freshman, Lukas was the most selfless kid I have encountered,” Gardner said. “He truly understands the team aspects of the game, and makes everyone on the team better. When he could not play his senior year, he became an even better leader, almost like another coach”