NEW HAVEN — When Ben Reeves was a middle school student in Macedon, a hamlet in upstate New York located between Syracuse and Rochester, he thought knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life: play in the NFL and cure cancer.
He's since altered his lofty ambitions, but only slightly.
Football was dropped to focus on lacrosse. A couple of blown coverages as a freshman defensive back led him to believe his skills might not be NFL-caliber. Now a Yale junior, he's on the verge of being named first-team All-American for the second time.
And though he hasn't ruled out a career dedicated to eradicating cancer, Yale's vast resources have brought to light endless opportunities for one to make a difference in the field of medicine.
Since enrolling three years ago, Reeves has worked two cancer research internships and another studying neuro-degenerative disease. A graduate-level course in pathology this semester has only fueled his passion for understanding exactly how the human body functions.
"The mission for any kid in my position now is to get into medical school and advance from there," says Reeves, a junior majoring in molecular, cellular and developmental biology. "I wish I could tell you what field I definitely want to be in, but every time I shadow a new field, they're all interesting. I've seen a couple of heart surgeries, one or two brain surgeries. Each (area of medicine) has its own fascinating component to it."
Highly-motivated student-athletes driven toward a greater purpose is nothing new to men's lacrosse coach Andy Shay. This is Yale, after all. Sports are often a healthy diversion to future doctors, lawyers and captains of industry.
Others, like junior midfielder Tyler Warner, an ecology and evolutionary biology major, have emerged as All-America candidates while maintaining a heavy academic workload.
Still, Reeves, as one of the best players in the country, if not the best, is accomplishing feats never before seen in 135 years of Yale lacrosse. And his role in the Bulldogs' rise to national championship contender is unquestioned.
"In a game, if we're down a goal, or at the end of the quarter with short time, we'll run a play here and there," Shay said. "But the default is, under 15 seconds, to get it to Ben. The fact we can say 'Get it to Ben' is awesome. We get to say it a little while longer."
Reeves, as a sophomore, earned first-team All-America honors while becoming the first player in program history named a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award as the best player in the country.
He's on pace to duplicate those feats this spring.
Yale (8-3, 5-0), ranked 12th in the nation, puts its seven-game win streak on the line at No. 5 Albany on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN3.) Last weekend the Bulldogs clinched the top seed and home field for the Ivy League tournament for the first time.
With the win, the Bulldogs are the #1 seed and will host the Ivy League Tournament for the first time in team history.— Yale Lacrosse (@YaleLacrosse) April 15, 2017
Reeves leads the team with 28 goals, 28 assists and 56 points. His 178 career points are 22 shy of Jon Reese's school record. Reeves, the nation's second leading scorer at 5.60 points-per game, could break Reese's mark before this season is finished.
His shining performance came last Saturday at Yale's Reese Stadium. Reeves scored a career-high 10 points against Brown, a national semifinalist last season, and reigning Tewaaraton Award winner Dylan Molloy to clinch a share of the Ivy championship.
"It makes it kind of hard for an opponent to overcome when one guy scores 10 points," Shay said. "He's a prolific scorer, an exceptional athlete and is one of the best players in the country. To have that guy on your side ... He's got teammates who can do a lot of things. Eric Scott put the team on his back in the Maryland game when Ben was not available. But it's good to have one anchor, if not a couple."
Reeves, the youngest of Karen and Bob Reeves' four sons, nearly fell through the cracks in the recruitment process despite an historic career at Palmyra Macedon (N.Y.) High. A varsity player by the time he was in eighth grade, Reeves' 585 career points rank second in New York high school history.
Yet he'd received minimal interest from college lacrosse programs when he committed to play at Hobart College as a junior. When the Hobart coach left for another job, Yale entered the picture, scouting him at an off-season high school showcase event.
"We watched him play; I thought he was really good, my assistant was less than impressed," Shay said. "I think Ben would tell you at that showcase he was really bad. But to put up those points in New York State, I felt it couldn't miss. At the least, he'd be really good."
Reeves set a Yale freshman scoring record with 43 points. Prior to his sophomore season, Shay told him he'd be a Tewaaraton finalist. Reeves was incredulous, right up until the award announced them list came out last spring.
Even now, Reeves has a difficult time realizing his abilities. He marvels watching others execute their craft, from a gifted attacker on the lacrosse field to a surgeon with unflinching hands and confidence in the operating room.
"It's a part of his charm," Shay says. "He's so humble. The first few practices in the fall, he kept saying (freshman attacker) 'Jackson Morrill is going to be a star.' I was like 'Dummy, YOU'RE a star, what are you talking about?"
Reeves, with a natural thirst to understand how things work, has plenty of time to decide precisely which path he'll follow. Medical students typically have until the third or fourth year to choose a specialty. In the meantime he'll soak in as much as possible.
"I've developed an incredible interest in how the human body is, and how it's functioning," Reeves said. "The organ system still blows my mind when you talk about each and every one of them as they work as their own component, yet they all work together at the same time. When you combine that with the ability to help people and also gain relationships from people who really need someone they can trust, the medical profession is a great way to get involved." ___