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Lions' Lombardo has deep love for lacrosse

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Unlike many kids his age that grew up in Georgia, Nick Lombardo has always had lacrosse in his blood.

Even as he worked his way through the Peachtree Ridge youth and high school football programs to eventually become the Lions' starting varsity quarterback for two seasons, he also carried on his desire to put on helmet and pads for a different contact sport.

After playing club lacrosse for many years, he finally got his chance to represent his school, first as a club sport, and then last year for the first time as a varsity sport.

Now as a senior, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound attackman has become perhaps the premier offensive player among Gwinnett County's eight varsity teams, as well as one of the top scorers in the state.

"He was pretty good last year, but this year's numbers are just crazy," Peachtree Ridge coach Bob Basher said. "I think it's a combination of a couple of things. One is that last year was our first year as a GHSA program, and we were all getting experience adjusting to that kind of competition. And two, the whole program is getting better. When everyone around you gets better, you get more opportunities to score. Plus, you can tell he's put a lot of work in."

Indeed, Lombardo put a lot of work into his game long before a lot of players his age throughout Georgia even conceived of playing varsity lacrosse.

His father Bob, a former collegiate lacrosse player at Hofstra University in New York, helped to start club programs in the metro Atlanta area, which finally gave Nick an outlet to play.

"I'd always liked (lacrosse)," Lombardo said. "My brothers and I played out in the yard, just basically getting our sticks out and passing the ball around. But we never really had the opportunity to play until I was in about fifth grade. Now, it's getting bigger."

So are Lombardo's statistics.

After posting team highs of 62 points (37 goals and 25 assists) and 53 groundballs in the program's inaugural season last year, he has nearly reached those numbers already this spring.

His 36 goals have come in just eight games and are three times more than the Lions' next best scorer (Michael Ruffcorn's 12 goals). They have come on just 68 shots, giving him an astounding 52.9 shooting percentage.

Add in his 12 assists and 25 groundballs and he has been a major force in Peachtree Ridge's 7-1 start that has the team ranked No. 8 in the most recent laxpower.com Georgia high school rankings.

"He definitely makes a difference," Basher said. "The thing about Nick is he's a highly intelligent athlete. He's going to Washington and Lee University (on an academic scholarship) and even Harvard's looked at him.

"Plus, he's a really good athlete. He's got really quick feet. I think lacrosse helps his football. ... his footwork in both sports really helps with each other."

And Lombardo has excelled at both sports.

As the starting quarterback for the football team, he accumulated 3,691 yards of total offense and accounted for 32 touchdowns in leading the Lions to a 24-4 record and a pair of Class AAAAA state playoff berths the last two seasons, including a state runner-up finish in 2008.

And he did it directing two dramatically different offensive sets -- going from a more traditional system to the spread option this past fall.

Lombardo agrees with Basher that his lacrosse experience helped him make the physical adjustments to the new system.

"I think lacrosse helped a lot in running the option," Lombardo said. "My football coaches (including Peachtree Ridge head coach Bill Ballard) used to joke with me that I'd turn to the middle too quick on some plays because that's where the goal is in lacrosse.

"Football helped my lacrosse, too. It's a team sport, and you get hit much more in football, so you get used to it (in lacrosse). I like the fact that (in lacrosse), ... it's not just about how big or fast you are. You have to have skills."

Lombardo's skills have earned him a chance to play college football at Washington and Lee beginning in the fall, but he has also been offered the chance to play lacrosse there, and he is considering trying both.

In the meantime, he will try to help the Lions build on their successful start, as well as help high school lacrosse take on a higher profile in Gwinnett County and throughout Georgia.

"It's nice playing on a bigger stage," Lombardo said. "When we played Collins Hill a few weeks ago, a lot of people actually showed up. That was pretty cool."