While a snowy windstorm picked up at the Army-Navy football game, and fans tuned into the rivalrous contest of sharp gusts and cannon fire, Garrett Thul watched, unenthused. As an attackman for the Army Black Knights, his support was inarguable, but his focus was elsewhere.
"The real Army-Navy is [in] another five months," Thul said.
Thul has rarely spent a day of his life without an outlet for physical violence. Decades of sports have defined his career, with the Wings rookie having stuck his increasingly dense, menacing frame into a variety of sports over the years, while it was on its way to 6' 3", 250 pounds. He dabbled in football as a younger man, but in the end, left it behind in favor of fewer pads and a stick in his hands.
"I miss football," he admits. "I actually asked my lacrosse coach if I could try out. I wasn't getting enough contact, I really just wanted to go in there and hit somebody."
Thul's position is special enough, it seems, as both an athlete competing professionally and an active U.S. infantry officer. Housed at West Point, he is permitted to suit up for the sport that has dominated his life since second grade as both the newest Philadelphia Wing and a member of the U.S. National Lacrosse team. It's a tight schedule, but Thul is obviously a guy who doesn't enjoy standing still.
"Football's just not fast paced enough for me," he says. "It gets a little monotonous."
The Wings didn't have a draft pick this season, and they won't get one again until 2015, having traded the 2012-14 picks for Brodie Merrill and a few others in 2011. Thul was one of the rookies signed this winter, having burst onto the scene at West Point for Army's lacrosse team, winning the "Nutcracker" award for the most physical play three consecutive years, in the similar fashion that he burst onto the U.S. National team's scene.
Thul bursts onto a lot of scenes. After a go with the Hamilton Nationals in Major League Lacrosse, Thul had the attention of some national reps.
"They invited me out, and I was honored to be invited to the tryout," Thul says. "There were about 100 guys there, and it's every name in American lacrosse."
"I was like a kid in a candy shop. I wanted to ask guys for their autograph. That first day we were there, I ended up really surprising a lot of people. I think in the first two games at tryouts, I had five goals in the first two games. So I went from an underrated guy to one of the guys who made the cut."
It's his position with the U.S. team that gives him curious standing with the Army.
"There aren't many guys that are in my particular position, because lacrosse isn't one of these multi-billion dollar sports," Thul explains. "I have some classmates who were drafted by the NFL or MLB, but the way that works is that's a seven days a week, 24 hours a day commitment, whereas lacrosse is more like a Friday night through Sunday morning kind of commitment. The Army lets me compete the way I am while maintaining my active role in the military. My classmates playing those big time pro sports, they have to serve two years before they can go and play."
As he will represent the country in lacrosse this July, the Army won't be getting in the way as he trains. Part of that training includes donning a Wings jersey and throwing his weight around.
The Wings are looking to bounce back from another 7-9 record, another third place finish and another loss in the divisional semifinals. For the majority of their seasons since their last first place finish in 1998, they've missed the postseason entirely. Though they have six championships to brag about, the last one was 12 years ago. The team strengthened on defense with the addition of Brett Manney, and added forward Ryan Ward along with former Rutgers Scarlet Knight Michael Diehl. But it's Thul that stands out, as he is electric highlight reel, pivoting against defenders on his shoulder and pelting goalies with frantic shots.
His attack is based on the philosophy that anyone can reach a weight; it takes a strategist to know how to use it best to one's advantage. Which is not too shocking a mindset for a guy who was sired by a former Cornell football player and current 60-year-old rugby player.
"My dad's a real big influence," Thul says. "He taught me a lot of the skills, but he's more into the mental aspects of contact sports. I was always brought up visualizing the hit. There are plenty of guys who are big dudes but don't know how throw their body around and make hard hits. So he brought me from a guy that wasn't too physical to being who I am today. I'm one of the faster guys. I weigh almost 250 pounds right now, but I still run a sub-4.7 40."
As for the Military aspect of his career, Thul's visits to his grandfather as a kid, and the subsequent impromptu World War II history lessons lit a fire, and his father's fraternity brother, Mike, fanned them toward the army. It created a very singled-minded adolescence for Thul, in which he was picturing his future far more clearly than most preteens.
"From the time I was 10, I knew wanted to go in the Army. I knew I wanted to play lacrosse. I knew I wanted to wear the No. 9." he recalls.
The path led him to opportunities like the one three summers ago, when he was a systems engineer in the office of the Director of the Secret Service, after his sophomore year at West Point. At the moment, the military and lacrosse have split his time down the middle, but in the near future, Thul knows he has a choice to make.
"I'm at a crossroads," Thul admits. "I have always wanted to serve. Ever since I was little. I've always wanted to go into Special Operations. But at the same time, I've always wanted to play lacrosse at a professional level and play for team USA and all that."
He meanders for awhile, praising each career and the long dedication he's submitted to both. And he has a very human conclusion to the question — procrastination.
"As far as choosing one, I don't think for the next several years I'll have to choose," he says, but spins and fires on that statement as he's done on the field so many times. "But if I'm unable to perform my duties as an Army officer because of my responsibilities in professional lacrosse, then I'll hang up my cleats."
For now, though, he's a proud new member of the Wings and one of the best lacrosse players in the country, with the mantra of his father's upbringing never far from his thoughts: