Rookie Experience: TJ Comizio

TJ Comizio grew up in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, a town where field lacrosse, not box lacrosse, is the preferred version of the game. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 14 years after he started playing the field game that he would even watch his first box lacrosse match, and that didn’t happen until after he had already been selected by the Georgia Swarm in the NLL Entry Draft.

As a youth, Comizio could be found all over the field. He spent time on attack, in the midfield, and on defense, doing whatever his coaches asked of him so the team could be their most successful. During his high school years at Delbarton, he earned varsity letters and won a Non-Public A State Championship. 

Thereafter, Comizio would shine at Villanova University, ultimately earning USILA All-American and All-Big East honors while settling into his bread and butter of playing short-stick defensive midfield. By his university graduation, box lacrosse was still an enigma to the New Jersey native. Little did he know, the version of the game he once knew nothing about would soon become the leading platform for showcasing his lacrosse skills. 

In Comizio’s first professional lacrosse job playing for the now-defunct MLL’s Atlanta Blaze in 2019, he would meet some of the NLL’s biggest stars. Playing alongside names such as Mark Matthews, Randy Staats, and Shayne Jackson, Comizio would learn all about the indoor game, and yet, while the idea intrigued him, he still wasn’t sure how well he’d fit in. 

Throughout that summer season, Comizio had taken calls from NLL teams, including John Arlotta’s Swarm, but didn’t think anything would come of them by the time the NLL Entry Draft rolled around in the fall. Lo and behold, Arlotta would give Comizio a shot at the big-time box league. It wouldn’t be until shortly after the draft that Comizio would finally watch his first box lacrosse games as he saw many of his Blaze teammates competing at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships.

“I didn’t have any expectations of getting drafted into the NLL,” Comizio said. “As I was watching the draft, I was pretty surprised to be picked in the 3rd round to Georgia.”

Although Comizio wouldn’t make a spot on the active roster during the 2019-20 NLL season, he was given a practice roster spot and took advantage of the time to hone his skills and watch games he could get to along the east coast. But, as any athlete will tell you, there is no better practice than being out there in a live game situation.

“I was practicing and watching, but while watching was helpful, you’ve got to be out there playing with the guys if you want to learn the game,” Comizio said. “After the canceled season, my contract was up, but I re-signed with the team. I had taken a lot more time to learn the game, so my expectations were higher going into this past season – my goal was to make the team.”

More motivated and experienced than ever before, on his second attempt, Comizio would achieve his goal of making the active roster. Before his 1st NLL game, the Swarm coaching staff gave Comizio a piece of advice that he would take to heart every game: make it impossible for them to take him out of the lineup. After missing the season’s opening game due to being a late scratch, Comizio would find himself in a steady position in the backend – he played in the remaining 17 games.

His nerves never entirely faded, and mistakes were made throughout the year – Comizio would be the first to admit that. Nevertheless, the Swarm coaching staff were constantly encouraging the team, especially the younger players, to trust their teammates and their own skillsets while feeling the game out and improving within the systems. 

“Even though I’m sure guys like Mike Poulin felt like they probably wanted to rip my head off a couple of times, the older guys on the back end really helped a lot of us young guys throughout the year,” Comizio said. “They played a huge role in making all of us young guys feel more comfortable.”

From the first few games until the end of the season, there was a marked improvement in Comizio’s production. Over his last three games of the season, Comizio would tally 30% of his loose balls for the year and score two of his six goals in that period. In just his final game, he recorded a career-high in loose balls with 13 and a personal best of four caused turnovers. 

Amongst rookie defensive players in the NLL last year, Comizio would finish 5th in loose balls, 3rd in caused turnovers, and 2nd in points.

Comizio may have never played a professional game of box lacrosse before last December, but his rookie season performances will have made it very challenging, if not impossible, for the coaching staff to take away his spot on the roster.

By Adam Levi