On the lacrosse field with the other seventh-graders in the middle school game was an elite defender.

Unlike the others, he was about 6-foot, 165 pounds. Unlike the others, he was able to force a turnover with a mere stick-check, scoop up the ball, run down the field and score. Unlike the others, it was clear the game at this level was coming too easy.

So before Gregory Capelle, who verbally committed to Air Force on March 1, entered his eighth-grade season last year, Herricks boys lacrosse coach Mike Chin decided the young player was ready for a new challenge: Capelle would play on the varsity team.

Initially, the plan was to ease him in. Capelle was supposed to be part of a solid defensive rotation. After the season opener, however, that plan was scrapped.

"It was a Wally Pipp deal," Chin said Monday night, referring to Lou Gehrig's predecessor at first base for the Yankees. "Greg started in place of someone who couldn't play that day and he performed that well where I knew he wasn't ever coming out."

Capelle never did.

"It was a huge jump for me," Capelle said. "They were bigger stronger and faster. I had to work on my game. Midway through the season, I was learning more and gaining more knowledge and think that's when my play picked up."

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His season sparked interest from Division I programs.

One of those programs was Air Force. Having always been interested in the military, Capelle called Air Force assistant Bill Wilson on March 1 and told him that he "committed to the application process at the United States Air Force Academy." Capelle became the first defender of his graduating class (2018) to commit to Air Force, Chin said.

Capelle will request a nomination at the end of his junior year with his state senators, congress representative, and vice president. His decision is not official until he signs a national letter of intent some time in the fall of 2017.

Air Force went 11-6 overall and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Duke last year and is viewed by many as a team on the rise. Like many other Division I men's lacrosse programs in recent years, Air Force has had to jump on the early recruiting trend.

One of Capelle's reasons for choosing Air Force was actually the same reason he wanted to play varsity as an eighth-grader.

"My desire is to be challenged," Capelle said. "Any challenge you have, I'm up for it."

The task now is to perform at a high level when everyone knows who you are.

"Word got around from the other coaches that I was starting an eighth-grader," Chin said. "After the games, opposing coaches would ask who the eighth-grader was. He wasn't a fish out of water by any means. Now, I don't think he's going to surprise anyone. People will know him."

There's also another goal Capelle is looking forward to this season: Help lead Herricks, which went 6-9 last season after going winless in 2013, to a winning record.

"That's a challenge," Capelle said, "that appeals to me a great deal."