With a target on his back for as long as he's been playing competitive lacrosse, Casey Powell has compiled a legendary career with a lightning first step that's gotten him past armies of stick-swinging defensemen and hordes of opponents tasked with shutting down one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the sport. They've never been able to stop him.
Most professional athletes begin to fade when they reach their late 30s. They're unable to maintain the pace and edge and dominance that carried them through their younger years. But the older Powell gets, even now at 39 years old, the better he gets.
Take, for instance, the 2014 Major League Lacrosse season when he led the league in scoring with 63 points in only 14 games for the Florida Launch. At 38, he was dominating opponents fresh out of college and in the athletic primes of their lives. Older, wiser, and maintaining a freestyle game of no-look passes and behind-the-back shots, Powell is as comfortable now with the ball in his stick as he was 20 years ago. His production (34 points in 10 games) and Florida's win total dipped in 2015, but he says he has one season left in his legs.
"At the end of this season, I was leaning more toward not coming back," he says. "As time goes by, I'm leaning toward one more season. But I've said that three years in a row."
This weekend, he will embark on his next challenge when he leads the United States into the FIL World Indoor Lacrosse Championship in Syracuse, NY, and the Onondaga Nation. It will be the first competitive lacrosse Powell's played in Syracuse since graduating from the University in 1998 as a four-time All-American and the school's all-time points leader — a mark later matched by his younger brother Ryan, and surpassed by a third Powell, Mikey.
"We know we have our work cut out," Casey Powell says. "The best we've finished is a bronze, three times, and we want to improve on that. Our goal is to go up there and take the gold."
After regretting sitting out the 2014 World Championships, and then not trying out for the team this year after wondering how effective he would be at this age, U.S. coach Tony Resch reached out to Powell earlier this year with an invitation to attend training camp.
"I'm really glad they called," he says. "So let's go." To blast himself back into game shape, Powell relies on a holistic set of workouts — lunges, high-knees, step-ups, and plyometric work designed specifically to keep his footwork sharp, his steps quick, and his core strong. He doesn't lift weights, and instead of throwing iron around, he stretches, does yoga, and works primarily on getting his legs strong. He's been running bleachers with his 9-year-old daughter Bella on his shoulders. He started doing Insanity workouts and boxing in the two-week run-up to the tournament, working on cardio and "zapping" his legs, he says.
"Because I am a coach and almost 40, I have a lot of experience and it's kind of like Old Man Hoops, you know where to be and when to be there and when to exert your efforts," he says. "Because of my experience, the game has really slowed down for me and I can react to what's happening out there."
He admits he isn't "obsessive" about diet and just makes smart decisions about what he eats. He limits junk food and constantly drinks water. "I just wake up and start chugging," he says.
Beyond the lunges and high knees, what really pushes Powell is the fire inside of him.
"The reason I can still play is my body has held up and I'm just as passionate about it as when I started playing," he says. "I've never lost that. That's what drives me when I'm out on the field. When the whistle blows, I just have this mindset and attack that I still love to play the game and I love to compete. That's what drives me."
The workouts have been paying off and in his return to the floor after a two-year break from the indoor game, Powell saw immediate results.
"My core strength felt really good so I was able to get hit defensively and still maintain the development of the play," he says. "Ten years ago I would have been pushed off center. I felt stronger than I did back then, so I was able to remain in the play and continue to make something happen. I felt good and it's always great being out there. When I first started playing lacrosse, I always wanted to play for the U.S. team. Here's another opportunity.
"It's always special and it's something I don't take for granted. I'm hungry and motivated to go up and make a difference and play in front of my family and friends and Syracuse fans."
It all starts with a single step. And this weekend, Powell will step into an indoor lacrosse arena for the first time in two years. He'll do it in a place he considers home. And he'll be as fast and as strong and as wise as he's ever been.