[inline:rabil] With the quarterfinals of the D-I lacrosse NCAA tournament now behind us, the Final Four is set for Memorial Day weekend: #1 Virginia will face #5 Cornell and #2 Syracuse will battle #3 Duke on Saturday in Foxboro, Mass., for a chance to play in the National Championship next Monday. While the entire lax community debates the big match ups, the players and coaches are going through the most important week of their entire seasons -- and for some, their entire careers. Under intense media scrutiny, with practices every day and film sessions late into the night, these national powerhouses are preparing for the game they've been dreaming of since they first picked up a lacrosse stick years ago. And perhaps no player in recent memory knows what this week is like more than Paul Rabil, the former Johns Hopkins middie and McLaughlin Award winner who helped lead his team to the 2005 and 2007 titles as well as a 2008 runner-up finish. So BroBible asked Rabil, now of the San Jose Stealth and Boston Cannons, to take us behind the scenes of the week leading up to the Final Four. Here's Rabil's exclusive interview with BroBible. BroBible: What is preparation like the week leading up to the semifinals on Saturday? Do you practice every day? Are girls or partying or anything else of that sort off limits that week? Or does the normal routine of college life help you relax? Paul Rabil: There's no better time during the year than the NCAA Tournament. It starts with the Sunday night Selection Show on national television, and hopefully ends Monday afternoon of Memorial Day. In terms of routine for the Final Four, the only thing that should really change is that certain excitement and anticipation you get all week during practice, film, and extra shooting. As far as practicing every day, the way I see it is that there is no way throughout the year that a team would even sniff the Final Four if they not only practiced every day, but put in extra work as individuals after. For me, shooting extra before and after practice prepares me for each game every weekend. There's no better way to gain confidence for a game than to feel completely comfortable with your stick. I've done some crazy things on the field, good and bad... but I would have never tried any of it if I wasn't confident in my ability. Lastly, believe it or not, girls and partying are absolutely off limits for me the week of the Final Four. However, this isn't because I don't think it's unhealthy in preparation, but more so I'm just entirely too fired up to get out on lacrosse's biggest stage. Plus, by this time of the year finals are over and each day is wide open to practice and hang out with your boys. When does the reality of "I'm going to be playing in front of 60,000 people at Foxboro" set in? Rabil: Call it cocky, call it dumb, but being a Hopkins player, as soon as we step on campus we expect to make it to the Final Four. Most teams are congratulated for making the tournament, but Hopkins is ridiculed for not making a top-4 seed. It's kind of a joke. But in the end, I think all of the pressure, strength of schedule, and exposure to all game situations makes us a better team. If you get caught up thinking about playing in front of 60k, instead of just embracing it and getting excited about it, you'll forget how to catch and throw.
How do you stay focused mentally when there is so much going on around you during Final Four weekend? Do you treat it like just another game? Rabil: That's a tough question because you hear so many cliches regarding "treating a tournament game like a regular game." Earlier I talked about maintaining the same routine during the week that got me there, but that is purely physical with all emotions aside. Let's face it; if you make the Final Four with the intentions to just be there, then you're not going to win. So yeah, I think there is extra focus and mental preparation that you need to put forth to outlast your opponent. There's a lot of excitement going around the stadium and the city and it's easy to get caught up in it. However, I think if you're a player that can handle it, it's okay to get outside your hotel room, sign a few autographs, and breathe in the excitement. Where do you find inspiration? Do certain teams provide extra motivation? Rabil: I have always found motivation to be the best player. Now I know that sounds fairly basic and original, but it's the truth. I get this question quite often, and to be honest, I don't think it's as much as a "desire" as it is a guilty conscience of mine. Who doesn't want to be the best? It's a pretty simple thing in life. It's like money: of course you want a lot of it, and of course you want to be the best person/player/salesman/boss you can be. I think what separates me is my conscience. And sometimes, I literally hate it, and it keeps me up at night. I'm in no way close to perfect. There are times where I know I need to put extra shots in at the gym, run some more sprints or lift more reps...yet I'll stay at home and watch an extra episode of "The Sopranos." This doesn't happen often, but when it does, I literally drive myself crazy to the point where I'm ready for bed, it's 11p.m., yet I'll still get out the door and head over to the local gym to get that workout in that I missed, and ultimately sacrificing some sleep and laziness. My conscience is always telling me that I'm behind and not doing enough. [inline:rabil23] Describe your routine on game day. Any pre-game meal traditions or favorite music? In the locker room during pre-game, are you looking to pump yourself up or do you prefer to preserve your energy for the game? Rabil: My strength and conditioning coach Jay Dyer always tells me NOT to preserve energy in warm-up's before my games. He says it's counter-effective and wants me doing light hang clings and squats a half hour before kick-off (I have yet to give it a shot, though I will soon). In terms of music, I just let our team DJ, whoever it may be (at Hop it was Garrett Stanwick), do his thing and I just jam out to whatever is on. My go-to definitely used to be System of a Down, but I think that drove everyone on the team nuts. I'm a big fan of a few of the Jordan Brand commercials and the new NBA Playoff commercials. So what I'll do is download them to my iPod and watch them a little bit in the locker room to re-focus myself. Sometimes pre-game can be grueling how long it is. I've showed up to games two and a half hours early before and wanted to play within the first 15 minutes of landing. What was the best pump-up speech that you heard on a Final Four weekend? Rabil: Coach Petro can get me juiced up to play in any game, bottom line. I hope he isn't reading this, but being completely honest, I'm so jacked up for the Final Four and Championships that I almost black out during the pre-game speech. At that point, I don't need extra motivation. Describe what it was like playing in the Final Four as a freshman in 2005, and as a senior in 2008? How much did experience help? Rabil: Playing in the Final Four as a freshman and a senior was much different from a leadership standpoint. As a freshman, all you have to worry about is yourself, and bringing that energy you need to help the team. As a senior leader, you need to worry about yourself, bringing the energy you need to help the team, making sure the freshmen and sophomores aren't freaking out, and making sure the entire team is prepared. More responsibilities, but much more gratifying as you run out in front of 50,000 people leading your team behind you like a herd of bulls on a stampede. Of your three Final Four experiences, is there one that stands out as the most special? Rabil: I wish I could say my senior year as we were so close, but I'd have to say my junior year in Baltimore. Not only were we the HUGE underdogs, but the Finals were in our hometown in front of our home fans, and we were able to not only win a second championship, but cement our footing as one of the all-time great JHU classes. However, in some ways I look back at my senior year and that Championship as an opportunity to latch on as I continue to grow in my lacrosse career. Games in the NLL and MLL are very competitive in nature. I've played one season in each league now and have yet to win another championship. Going out in second place has made me hungrier than ever. Two rings aren't enough. I want to win at the next level. [photo courtesy Jack Carroll/Icon SMI via ESPN.com]