Growing up in Alabama, football is the sport to play in the fall and baseball in the spring.
But for Marquette men’s lacrosse redshirt junior long-stick midfielder Elliott Yacu, a different spring sport was calling his name.
“Baseball’s the big thing there and was a little slow for me,” Yacu said. “I was losing enjoyment out of it so I started playing lacrosse. It’s a very fun sport, fast paced and it was kind of the speed of what I needed.”
Not only does lacrosse not have a major presence in the Cotton State, but it hinders football development too.
“Growing up, a lot of coaches didn’t want players playing lacrosse because there’s always the fear of someone getting hurt,” Yacu said. “You don’t have to worry about that as much with baseball but lacrosse for sure.”
Yacu had to get creative to play his new sport.
“I started playing a lot of tournaments on the East Coast and kind of traveling around with a couple different teams and it kind of took off from there,” Yacu said.
Entering a Culture Shock
For Yacu, transitioning from a non-lacrosse hotbed to the DI level was difficult.
“Playing college lacrosse, especially at this level, was pretty overwhelming for me at first,” Yacu said. “Coming from Alabama, I really didn’t have high expectations. Division I seemed a little out of my reach at the time.”
Yacu’s journey to Division I lacrosse began with a conversation with now-head coach Andrew Stimmel, who was then an assistant on Joe Amplo’s staff.
“The way he approached everything and the way he talked about the team was super comforting (for me),” Yacu said.
Once Yacu made a visit to Marquette, he felt a sense of both welcome and home, especially from the coaching staff.
“Everyone seemed just as polite as they are in the South, which is a very sense of home that I needed when I’m coming across the country to move away from home for the first time,” Yacu said. “That definitely is what stood out about Marquette, it gave me a sense of hope.”
Marquette’s 2020-21 roster was composed mostly of East Coast and West Coast talent, with some players from Colorado and Canada.
In fact, Yacu is the lone player in program history to come from Alabama.
As for many student-athletes who go to a college out of state, it brings the need to acclimate. This was no exception for Yacu.
“When I say culture shock, I think I mean less by the state and maybe a little more so the city. I think the team culture shock was what really did me in,” Yacu said. “Coming in here, I really didn’t have friends or anybody that I knew coming in so it was crazy getting to know all these people we have. Our team is really spread out so a lot of guys’ attitudes and mannerisms, the way people act and talk and everything is much different than the way people do it in the South.”
Yacu mentioned he has learned a lot from getting to know his teammates and where they come from, but the best thing has been hearing how his teammates say things differently than him.
“One often thing that comes up is in the winter when it gets cold, I’ll ask anybody if they have a toboggan and people up here call that like a beanie or winter hat,” Yacu said. “When I think of a hat, I’m thinking like it’s just a ball cap. Stuff like that, I just think it’s funny.”
Adversity brings out role on team
Before the Homewood, Alabama native arrived at Marquette, he suffered an injury which set him back from getting going the day he stepped on campus.
During his playing career in the Brew City, he has suffered additional injuries.
Yacu credited his close friends, roommates and teammates in his class for helping him through the tough times.
Additionally, he credited the first-years and teammates who he hasn’t been put into situations to get to know at times for help.
“Days where I’m really not feeling my best, come in down or just having one of those tough days, a lot of those guys that I’ve taken the chance to or take the time to get to know will kind of pick up on that, approach me and make sure that everything’s okay,” Yacu said. “That’s really what’s kept me going.”
Despite seeing limited playing time over his career, Yacu said his role on the team has been consistent — being the best teammate, holding himself and teammates accountable and getting the best out of each other — but the biggest role he has served is building relationships.
“I’m one to not be afraid to approach people and I like to say, I know a large amount of people to further extend than most just because I enjoyed digging into people and finding all new kinds of fun things out about it.”
Yacu said being a quiet leader on the team has allowed him to help first-years who might feel uncomfortable coming in become more comfortable by showing them the ropes of the program.
Looking back, the business major said the biggest area of growth he has seen in himself is his experience as a whole.
“My experience has been an up and downhill battle,” Yacu said. “Just learning how to deal with failures and how to continue to fuel myself in situations where it doesn’t seem like everything’s going my way has been a big part of my growth. The culture of this team is what helped keep me going through it all.”
Leaving an Impact
One of Yacu’s favorite memories during his time at MU was the feeling after last year’s game versus Michigan.
“Getting called in early that next morning and hearing that our season was over, that was hard in a lot of ways,” Yacu said. “It was scary to see a lot of those seniors have to deal with that and even crazier to see how many rose to the occasion unknowingly came back just because they really truly love Marquette lacrosse.”
Yacu said seeing how last year’s seniors came back this year under the extra year of eligibility fired him up heading into this season.
“It really did take a chunk out of our careers which are short as they are,” Yacu said. “You’re only young enough to play college lacrosse for so long so I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
As Yacu’s career at MU ended this past Friday as the Golden Eagles defeated St. John’s 15-14 in the regular season finale, he hopes to be remembered in one way.
“I hope to be remembered as a guy everyone could talk to, a guy that just was pretty loyal and cared about everybody around him,” Yacu said. “That’s always been me. It’s been so fun getting to just be there cheering on my best friends and seeing them succeed. That’s a thrill in and of itself that they don’t even know about that I have had.”
All in all, that uncomfortable feeling and thought of playing Division I lacrosse Yacu felt before arriving at MU will be in the rearview mirror come May 23 when he walks across the stage at American Family Field.
“Coming here was a big stretch for me and way outside of my comfort zone. I really didn’t see myself going anywhere but Alabama or Auburn,” Yacu said. “Coming here is kind of a shot in the dark to play college lacrosse and proving to everybody that a guy from Alabama can compete.”
This article was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU.