Graduate student Gargiulo lights fire under younger Flames
April 11, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
When he was an undergraduate student at nearby Lynchburg College five years ago, Joe Gargiulo used to go undercover to Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church in search of truth.
"He thought Campus Church was just for Liberty students, so he'd sneak onto campus, or what he thought was sneaking onto campus, to come to Campus Church, trying to get some answers," Flames men's lacrosse coach Kyle McQuillan said.
Garguilo didn't realize at the time the cost involved in becoming a Christian.
While serving as a supervisor at the Rec Center in Breckenridge, Colo., soon after he surrendered his life to Christ last year, God turned his world upside down.
"I ended up, in the same week, getting fired, losing my apartment, and losing my ski pass," Garguilo said. "I took it as God's way of telling me that He wanted me to leave Colorado for whatever His reason was."
The Fairfax native returned to Virginia and wound up in Liberty's online program, working toward his graduate degree in physical education.
The Lord opened the door for him to join the lacrosse team for one final season of eligibility and he has emerged as one of the Flames' most dangerous attackmen, and fourth-leading scorer, with 32 goals and nine assists.
|A natural-born scorer, lethal with a stick in his hand, Gargiulo ranks fourth on the Flames with 37 goals and nine assists in limited playing time this season.|
"I just wanted something to keep me occupied," said Gargiulo, 26, who formerly played two seasons of lacrosse at Delaware, an NCAA Division I team, and one on LC's Division III team. "I talked to Coach McQuillan and he gave me something to do right away. I'm just trying to help out the team in any way I can."
McQuillan said it's rare to find a graduate student in the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association.
"Joe's a unique situation but it worked out in our favor this year so we're happy to have him," he said. "It's given him an opportunity to come back and play a sport that he loves. He's just had a lot of experience playing the game in his youth so he just brings a lot of maturity and a lot of knowledge, which is good just because we are such a young program."
At the same time, being in a Christian environment, with the support of younger teammates more mature in their faith, has helped Gargiulo.
"He made some pretty significant life changes and wanted to get into a scenario that supported those changes and this was a really good fit," McQuillan said. "As much as he has benefited us as a lacrosse team, I'm hoping that we've been able to rub off on him and these guys have been able to develop relationships with him and kind of help him in his walk here in the last year. "He's come a long way," he added. "So it's kind of neat to hear his story, where he's come from, where he is, and we're all looking forward to where he's going."
Lately, Gargiulo has been slowed by injuries that have shown his age, battle scars from his involvement in extreme sports such as snowboarding and BMX biking over the years.
"I have Achilles tendonitis right now and it's been one injury after another," he said while sitting out Tuesday afternoon's practice at the Liberty Lacrosse Complex. "I pulled my hamstring on the first day of practice and that took about a month to heal and now I've got knee tendonitis, too, just tendonitis from the waist down."
When he was at LC, Gargiulo also ventured over to Liberty Mountain to compete in the first Dew Games ever held at the Snowflex Centre, making it to the finals of the Big Air competition. Over the past three years, he broke his collarbone twice on BMX falls before fracturing his arm competing with Snowboarders for Christ this past year at Breckenridge.
"I was pretty serious about (BMX biking)," Garguilo said. "I was pretty serious about a whole bunch of things. I feel like I'm a jack of all trades, master of none."
But since getting back into lacrosse, following a four-year competitive sabbatical from the sport, he has fine-tuned his stick skills and showcased his characteristic flair on the field, especially around opponents' nets.
"There's a lot of things that go hand-in-hand with extreme sports and sports like lacrosse," Gargiulo said. "There's a lot of your own style that you can put into the way you play, with different shots, trick shots, and freestyle. That what attracts me to it."
He has made the Flames' highlight reels a couple times for his scoring prowess, such as in a 23-4 rout of Davidson on March 23, when he netted one of his four goals from on his knees in the right crease with a spectacular shot from behind his head.
McQuillan said athletic plays like that and Gargiulo's continued passion for the game inspire his younger teammates to do great things.
"He really just lights a fire under these guys," McQuillan said. "He's played at a very high level and he understands. This guy comes from the perspective that his lacrosse days were done. When he contacted me, he just wanted to be involved in the program, maybe help coach.
"He understands that this is probably going to be his last year playing for good," he added. "So it's nice because he does bring a sense of urgency to the team. He sees the end of the tunnel."
Gargiulo knows he's not irreplaceable and voluntarily sat out Sunday's 25-1 win over UNC Charlotte.
"We have a deep team, more than just the starters," he said. "We've got second and third middie lines, which is good, and we absolutely have good chemistry."
He definitely will be back in action Friday night when the Flames (12-1, ranked No. 5 in the MCLA Division II poll) host defending Southeast Lacrosse Conference champion Elon (9-1, ranked eighth), which ended Liberty's season in last year's SELC tournament. And although he doesn't have the stamina he once did — he now weighs 200 pounds, up from his 165-pound prime at Delaware — he doesn't plan on holding anything back in the playoffs.
"Absolutely, I'm going all out," Gargiulo said. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't think this team is capable of winning a (MCLA Division II) national championship."