TORONTO - Even before playing his first professional game, Delby Powless
has become a hot commodity in lacrosse.
Picked first overall in the 2005 entry draft by the Buffalo Bandits of the
National Lacrosse League (NLL) in October, Powless knows there will be high
expectations for him to showcase his offensive talents. That's because the
Bandits coveted him so much they traded draft picks to acquire his rights.
"This was the first time I've been shown [confidence] because the players
they traded away are very good," Powless said.
Hailing from the sport's hotbed on the Six Nations of the Grand River
Territory in southwest Ontario, Powless, 24, was relatively unknown to the
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as recently as two years
ago. Completing his eligibility at Rutgers University this past spring, he
will display his honed skills for the pro franchise closest to his
As if being the number-one choice in the draft wasn't enough to think
about, being under the watchful eyes of family and friends adds to the
"There's pressure for being the first draft pick and from Six Nations for
being Native American," said Powless, who's the all-time scoring leader for
the reservation's Ontario Junior "A" team.
The Bandits are coming off a second-place finish in 2004, losing the final
to the Calgary Roughnecks in May. As Buffalo coach Darris Kilgour has
plugged Powless to become a starter and demonstrate his golden touch around
the net, it isn't necessary for the rookie to become an immediate "go-to"
"A guy of his talent, he's been the number-one option on the other teams
he's played on and here that might be his biggest adjustment," said
Kilgour. "He's going to have some talented veterans around him and he's
going to realize this is a talented line.
Before the draft Kilgour swapped picks with the expansion Minnesota Swarm
and claimed it was the biggest decision he's ever had to make as a coach.
The deal saw the teams exchange four players and three draft choices, the
prize being the Swarm's first overall choice, which inevitably was going to
be Powless, regardless of which NLL franchise had the coveted premier
Many NLL players are drafted out of Canada's amateur box lacrosse ranks but
Powless obtained greater exposure during his two years at Rutgers. Leaving
Six Nations on his own initiative in 2001, Powless enrolled at Herkimer
Junior College where he played field lacrosse for two seasons before
joining the Scarlet Knights.
The move to New Jersey proved a terrific match as the Knights, under coach
Jim Stagnitta, thrived with Powless' arrival. After a 2 - 12 season in
Stagnitta's first year, Powless' offensive skills were appreciated.
Leading the team in scoring in '03 and '04, Powless counted 63 goals in 29
games and Rutgers compiled an 18 - 11 record. After previously registering
four consecutive losing seasons, the 10-5 mark in 2003 was the first 10-win
season at the university in 13 years.
"In my first year we played 12 freshmen [and] if we were going to be
competitive, we couldn't have players who needed two more years," said
Stagnitta. "Delby brought something we were lacking; maturity, experience
Now that Powless is finished with field lacrosse, except for any future
appearances with the Iroquois National team during world championships,
he'll be concentrating on the indoor version. Unlike outdoor lacrosse
that's played on a football-size field incorporating 10 men, the box game
of the NLL is the adaptation most favored by Canadians. It uses six players
and combines the speed and ferocity of hockey with the half-court offensive
strategies of basketball, including a 30-second shot clock.
Coach Stagnitta said regardless of where Powless picks up a stick, he's
certainly an improved player for having had the college experience.
"His conditioning and strength are better for being involved in a
year-round program and I wish I had him for four years because he was just
scratching the surface as his field game was just starting to develop,"
Although Powless dreams of making athletics a full-time profession, he's
realistic enough to continue his post-secondary schooling. He's transferred
his credits to Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario where he will
finish his bachelor's degree in Sociology with the goal of earning his
teaching certification in elementary education.
"Some of the coaches who didn't recruit me then are calling me to see who's
on the rez," said Powless. "So maybe I've opened some doors for kids on the
rez to do something else."
Officially joining the Bandits on Dec. 7, Powless signed a one-year
contract and while he will get paid, few lacrosse players get rich. Average
salaries range between $400 -$1,200 per game for a 16-game regular season
Though the pay scale is miniscule compared to other professional sports,
these are heady days for the league as it continues to make inroads into
the United States. Besides the newly-fledged Swarm, the NLL is attempting
to solidify its franchises in cities outside of the Northeast, where
lacrosse has its roots, through expansion and relocation to sites in the
Powless hopes he too can be a part of the sport's growth, especially in
areas where there is a larger Indian presence.
"Say in Arizona, there are Native American kids who have never seen the
sport or even know that it's a Native American sport," said Powless, whose
team has stops in Phoenix, Denver and Minneapolis.
In his first taste of pro lacrosse during the Bandit practices, it didn't
take long to notice his days of Ontario Junior and the NCAA are now
memories of the past.
"Everybody within the league can whip it good and there is less time to
think as the defense is looking to strip the ball," Powless said. "There's
less time to move and it's more reactionary."
Bandits coach Kilgour is from the Tuscarora Reservation outside of Buffalo
and pointed out six players on his team are Indian. Acknowledging how
quickly the rookie has adapted to the higher caliber of play, the coach
said it's what Powless has done off the floor by going to a major college
that will create opportunities for indigenous student athletes.
"Delby is an ambassador for the Native community. He went down there with a
plan, got his education and they [the NCAA] shouldn't shy away from another
Native American after what he did for two years," Kilgour said.
Powless and the Buffalo Bandits open their 2005 schedule on Jan. 7 at 7:30
p.m. at the HSBC Arena versus the Toronto Rock.