Freshman a key part of Freeport's lacrosse foundation
As he slips by imaginary defenders and fires balls into the lacrosse goal on a field by himself several afternoons a week, Peyton Manko pays no mind to the reality that many people who drive along South Pike Road or stop at the Sheetz next to Freeport's high school and see him likely wonder what sport he's practicing.
Lacrosse still is new enough to the area that passersby might mistake it for some strange hockey-soccer hybrid.
That doesn't matter to Manko, though. As his freshman year at Freeport comes to an end, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Manko is focused on catching up with opponents who picked up the game years earlier and shaping himself into the Yellowjackets' first lacrosse star.
Freeport's inaugural season of high school boys lacrosse was this spring, and the Yellowjackets finished their non-WPIAL schedule with a 10-5 record.
At the heart of the team's success were players such as Manko, who approached the sport as far more than a springtime hobby.
“It's all he thinks about, and all he wants to do,” said Rich Manko, Peyton's father. “People always ask me if we're forcing him to do this, and we say no. It's kind of hard to just get him away from it. He's just very engaged and very driven when it comes to lacrosse.”
His commitment to the sport is clear from his summer schedule. He qualified to compete for Team Pennsylvania in the Brine National Lacrosse Classic's Class of 2017 showcase tournament June 30 through July 3 in Boyds, Md. He'll also attend camps at Penn State and Navy. And he'll travel the country with his club team, True Elite Pittsburgh.
It's a grueling itinerary, particularly for a kid who picked up the sport in seventh grade and only started exploring the camp and travel club scene during the summer before his freshman year. But Manko relishes the chance to become Cinderella at camps and showcases where players from traditional hotbeds such as Baltimore, Long Island and Philadelphia abound.
“When I see ‘BL' for Boys' Latin (a Maryland powerhouse prep school) on a kid's helmet, I just think, ‘You're playing with the best kids in the country, and that's crazy,' ” Peyton Manko said. “Or when you see a kid who has committed already, it's kind of intimidating, but I like a challenge.”
His immersion into lacrosse started so innocently. Fliers advertising a new Freeport middle school lacrosse program circulated around school.
Manko, a football player, found the spring sport's promise of physicality alluring.
“I thought, ‘Oh, this could be a like a second football season for me,' ” he said. “But I fell in love with the actual game instead of just trying to hit people.”
Manko no longer plans to play football for the high school. His athletic priority is lacrosse. And he even has a list of preferred college destinations: Penn State is No. 1, followed by Navy and Army, Loyola, Mercyhurst and Ohio State.
A few summers spent on the national showcase circuit gives Manko the chance to wow those colleges' coaches and become the rare Division I recruit who emerges from a burgeoning high school team.
Sandwiched between those out-of-town trips are sessions at the practice field next to the high school, where Manko hopes that he'll inspire others in the community to pick up a stick or, at the very least, ask what the heck he's doing.
“I love just teaching new things and trying to grow the game,” he said. “I tell people that if they have any questions, just come and ask me. And I get a lot of questions.”