ALBANY — To hear TD Ierlan tell it, the eye black the University at Albany men’s lacrosse star applies to his face before games is meticulously shaped into a unique design all his own.
“I’ve been told mine looks like Spider-Man,” Ierlan said.
That might be true. But, after Ierlan finishes his artwork approximately 30 minutes before taking opening faceoff for No. 1 UAlbany, he throws on his helmet and sweat starts to smear the paint. By the end of the game, Ierlan’s original work is semi-redesigned and the inside of his facemark is as much caked in eye black as his face.
“That never comes off there,” Ierlan said of the traces of eye black inside his helmet.
Most important from today’s post-game presser: TD Ierlan tries to explain/defend his face paint design.— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) March 20, 2018
(Note: He’s told me previously he wears so much of it that it takes close to 30 minutes to remove all of it after games.)#NCAALAX pic.twitter.com/1ZDVIl0oId
Ierlan gets that his eye-catching look is different to the point that it borders on goofy. He laughs when he discusses it. He’ll readily admit it serves no practical purpose on the field for him since he spends the bulk of his on-field time looking down at the turf.
“I guess it keeps the sun out of my eyes on the sideline when I’m watching the real players out there score goals,” Ierlan said. “It makes that easier to watch.”
But applying all that eye black matters to Ierlan. It’s a critical piece of the sophomore’s pre-game preparation.
“It’s a ritual for me,” Ierlan said of the few minutes he spends lining his face with eye black, first starting with a couple 7s before filling in the rest of his pattern. “Mentally, I think it helps me.”
As much focus as Ierlan — who leads the nation in faceoff winning percentage this season at 82.5 percent heading into Saturday’s game at UMass Lowell — puts into making sure his face is ready for game time, he puts a lot more into his game. He possesses the physical gifts to be a great faceoff specialist, but he combines his natural talent with an intense regimen of mental preparation between games.
UAlbany head coach Scott Marr often praises Ierlan as his most-prepared player, and as important as Ierlan’s work is at practice with freshman faceoff specialists Anthony Altimari and Austin Jones, what makes Ierlan special is the degree to which he studies his opponents’ faceoff specialists in his free time.
So before Ierlan takes the field, the time he spends messing up his face with gobs of eye black offers a much-needed momentary break from the non-stop focus Ierlan applies to his craft.
“It relaxes me before the game and gets me ready,” Ierlan said.
Starting off, Ierlan’s look was just about that: a look.
He started lining his face with eye black when he was a youth player and has continued that throughout his career. One year as a high school player at Victor, rules designated players could only wear a simple line of eye black under each eye . . . and Ierlan and his teammates kept showing up to games with their normal look, anyway.
“Pretty much every game, the refs would make us take it off,” Ierlan said. “We got away with it twice.”
At UAlbany, Ierlan has faced no such restrictions. If anything, he’s become emboldened since his eye black is supplied for him and his coach is cool with it.
“They can do what they want. It’s fine with me,” said Marr, who wore a couple simple lines of eye black under his eyes during his playing career. “We just have to buy more of it.”
Besides his own look, Ierlan said sophomore Pat Barrow — another Victor product — has the best face paint on the Great Danes. Begrudgingly, Ierlan will also throw support to senior star Connor Fields’ eye black game.
“Fieldsy’s is OK, but I’d never tell him that,” Ierlan said. “Fieldsy can’t know he has good eye black. It’s not quite as good as mine, but his is all right.”
At this point, Ierlan said he could make up his game face without the use of a mirror, but generally opts to use one to remove the chance he’ll spill eye black into his eyes.
The toughest thing about his valued pregame ritual? Dealing with it after the game.
“It takes me up to 30 minutes to take it all off in the shower,” said Ierlan, whose mother bought him makeup-removing wipes to help speed up the process. “I’m always the last one out of the locker room.”