BY CANDACE MARTINO
It’s considered by many sport historians to be the original “national pastime”. And no, it’s not baseball, though it does involve a stick, a field and a ball.
For Native Americans, lacrosse was more than just a game. It was a culture, a tradition, and a way for settling disputes and preparing for war. All of which deemed the Native Americans to be the “ultimate warriors.” For assistant men’s lacrosse coach Christopher Panos, the idea of a field warrior doesn’t stray far from the original meaning. In fact, if a decorated list of accolades including first round draft picks, championship titles and Olympic medals doesn’t mean warrior, then who knows what does?
Panos’ connection to the game of lacrosse runs deep within his New York heritage– it was the birthplace of the game 300-plus years ago that has now spread across the nation. At a young age in the heart of Long Island, NY, Panos became intrigued by the idea of shooting a ball into a net.
“When I was six I was introduced to the sport of lacrosse. From the moment I got my first stick, I was hooked on the sport. It’s fast, skilled and tough which fits my personality,” Panos said.
His passion for lacrosse began to grow immensely throughout his teenage years, where he played for Sachem School District, one of the top high school programs on Long Island. There, Panos was known for shattering the record books, his killer instinct, and his impressive playing IQ.
In 1992, the year of Panos’ senior season, he became the all-time leading scorer in school history at 94 points with 47 goals and 47 assists, good enough to be named an all-county player. With his crafty skills and field vision, he received college attention from a handful of universities such as Penn State, Michigan State and Hofstra University.
“I decided Hofstra because of the proximity to my home. My parents could come to all my games. It was basically my hometown team. I grew up watching those games as a kid with my dad,” Panos said.
During his time at Hofstra, Panos played under John Danowski, now the head coach at the Duke University, home to a prestigious lacrosse program. Panos, who played the attacker position, was a vital part of the roster at Hofstra and named a starter all four years.
After the completion of his college career, Panos was selected in the first round of the National Lacrosse League (NLL), fourth overall, by the Boston Blazers. He spent his off-season alternating between the Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) and the Western Lacrosse Association (WLA) to help further his development as a young professional. From 1997 to 2006, Panos played in the OLA and claimed the Mann Cup three times, the absolute pinnacle of professional lacrosse.
Panos checked off another accomplishment after winning the NLL World Champions Cup in 2001, when he was selected for the Team USA indoor team. Panos lead Team USA in scoring for most of his time with them, receiving many awards including a bronze medal and winning the Bowhunter Cup.
Shortly after, Panos suffered a broken foot that forced him to pursue other career avenues. He struggled to get back to his full playing potential and decided it was time to retire.
“It was a very tough time to walk away from the game, nonetheless due to an injury, but I was very blessed and thankful to have had the opportunity and privilege to play such a long and illustrious career while winning multiple championship and represent my country on four occasions,” Panos said.
After the conclusion of his retirement, it was time for Panos to give back to the game he loved so deeply. He launched his own personal brand called ‘Panos Lacrosse,’ which aimed to inspire young lacrosse players for future generations by creating a competitive, traveling club team. He offered private lessons, camps, a recruiting service for aspiring college athletes, and hosted many lacrosse tournaments. Panos put his club on hold when he accepted a position as the offensive coordinator at UT.
“It was a great decision to come to Tampa and a well-thought-out one. I knew with the coaching staff already in place with coach Whipple and Chris Burdick, that this would be a tremendous opportunity to work with two of the best in the game and to learn the ins and outs of the NCAA. We have had some tremendous success in a short amount of time because we work so hard everyday,” Panos said.
Since January 2014, Panos is now in his third season at UT under head coach Rory Whipple.
His major duty is to help coach the offense in addition to recruiting, day-to-day operations, and game day preparation. In his time at Tampa, he has been a part of two Sunshine State Conference titles, and three NCAA tournament berths.
“There will always be opportunities with successful programs, but I look forward to staying at Tampa for as long as I can, learning as much as I can along the way. As of right now, I enjoy living in Tampa and being apart of an outstanding staff and a nationally recognized program.”