When Steve DeNapoli is playing lacrosse, it's like having another coach on the field. And when he is coaching lacrosse, it's like having another player on the sideline.
DeNapoli is a midfielder on the Lizards, and the coach of the boys lacrosse team at his alma mater, Hewlett High School. So on the field, stick in hand, he has the vision of a coach. Off the field, clipboard in hand, he has a player's ability to relate.
"If I can't do something as a player, how am I going to expect the kids to do it?" he said. "It's helped me understand where coaches and players are coming from."
In the last two years, DeNapoli, 26, has returned home as both a player and a coach. The Lizards, who clinched the conference title and top seed in the MLL playoffs last week, acquired him in a trade with Rochester in 2013. That meant his home games again would be at Hofstra, where he played collegiately for four years. In his first season with the Lizards last year, the speedy DeNapoli made the All-Star team after scoring four goals and six assists.
"It's one of those things where you feel comfortable playing at home," he said. "It's in my own backyard. I've played a lot of lacrosse there and it's a place where I don't feel out of my element. It's come full circle."
It also came full circle at Hewlett. After coaching lacrosse at Holy Trinity for one season, the job at Hewlett opened up before last season. DeNapoli, an All-American as a senior at Hewlett in 2007 after totaling 48 goals and 24 assists, jumped at the opportunity.
"I'm able to look at it through the eyes of a kid because I was in their shoes a few years ago," said DeNapoli, who coached Hewlett to the Nassau Class B quarterfinals in his first season. "I take the knowledge I've learned throughout my playing experiences and relate it to them."
With two regular-season games left for the Lizards, DeNapoli has six goals and six assists -- impressive numbers for a defensive midfielder. He said he hasn't been more aggressive on offense necessarily, but has taken advantage of opportunities that presented themselves.
"I just do my role," he said. "Sometimes that requires playing good defense, getting the ball to the offensive guys and letting them do their thing. Sometimes we need a spark and I have to push the ball in transition and create some offense."
And sometimes his players from Hewlett are in the stands watching their coach.
"They've come to a couple games and I've gotten some criticism," he said with a laugh. "They weren't hesitant to yell at me for some of the things I messed up on."