His unselfish role is pretty simple: secure the ball, and valuable possession time, for the high-powered Tufts University men’s lacrosse squad, the two-time defending NCAA Division 3 champion.
Conor Helfrich has the ability to pierce the back of the net; he was a prolific goal scorer at Lawrence Academy in Groton. He had a goal and an assist in the national championship game last May, a 19-11 victory over Lynchburg in Philadelphia.
But the 5-foot-8-inch, 175-pound grinder from North Andover walked off Lincoln Financial Field that afternoon as the game’s Most Outstanding Player because of his prowess in the faceoff circle, where he won 23 of his 31 draws.
In the Jumbos’ drive to Sunday’s title game against perennial D3 juggernaut Salisbury (22-1) back in Philadelphia, Helfrich has been immense. In four NCAA games, he has won 73.9 percent (68 of 92) of his faceoffs, paving the way for top guns John Uppgren (69 goals, 57 assists), Zach Richman (56-1), Jake Gillespie (59-20), Ben Andreycak (44-45), and Austin Carbone (36-22).
“I love the position, the way I look at it, we have control of the game if we are controlling the possession,” said the senior midfielder. “I think we have the best wing players in the country.”
“The game starts with a faceoff, and I have the ability to influence where the ball goes, and it puts you in the heartbeat of the game, and with the offensive players that we have, it is a pretty simple formula. The more times we have the ball, the more times we will score. I watch them score.”
His hockey background — where he relished his role as a third-line checker — and accompanying quick wrists, certainly aided his transition to a specialist.
He also viewed the move as way to get on the field as a sophomore on talented and loaded squads.
Tufts coach Mike Daly said Helfrich “made sure that he wasn’t going to be outworked in preparation, he was a student of the position.”
He studied the best Division 1 faceoff specialists on film. He worked on his stance every day, in his dorm, in the common room, on the field.
“It takes a lot of discipline, you have to put the hours in, get the reps,” said Helfrich. “Ideally, I want to win every faceoff cleanly, but more often than not, there’s a lot of scrums, you battle a long time. You have to think on your feet. . . . I want to win one at a time.”
Added Daly, “Faceoffs are vital, they certainly allow us to on the runs that we go on, and it really doesn’t allow our opponent to score.”
That will be essential against Salisbury in a rematch of the 2014 final, which Tufts won, 12-9.
“We are playing a great team . . . we will have to play our best game of the year,” said the coach.
Helfrich has a position waiting at Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, a commercial real estate firm in downtown Boston. Major League Lacrosse is a possibility — he was the 66th overall pick by the Denver Outlaws in the league’s collegiate draft in February.
But this weekend, Helfrich and his classmates are determined to finish what they started.
“At the beginning of the season, our No. 1 goal was to win the national championship. To accomplish a major team goal means everything to me, and to our team.”Craig Larson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeLars.