Tim Myslinski says football is in his blood. His father, Tom Sr., coached the offensive line for 33 years at Rome Free Academy, where Tim and his older brother, Tom, were among their dad’s young blocking disciples.
Tim played football at Ithaca College. Tom played guard and center in the NFL for nine seasons with seven teams, including a game for the Bills in 1993. Tom is now the strength coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In 2003, Tim took a job at Frontier High and became an assistant coach for the football and girls’ lacrosse teams. Eventually, he worked his way up to head coach in both sports. In 2013, he led the Falcons to their first sectional final at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 29 years.
But last spring, Myslinski realized serving as head coach in two sports had become a burden. He was short-changing the players, not to mention his wife (the former Rebecca Lafornara) and three young children.
“I absolutely love football,” Myslinski said. “I enjoyed being head coach. But after a couple of years, I felt like I was a jack of all trades and master of none. I felt I wasn’t able to connect wholeheartedly with either of the teams.”
The realization struck him two springs ago, like a stick to the head. One day, Myslinski was getting some Frontier kids ready for a football camp. He lost track of time and was half an hour late for lacrosse practice, the day before the Section VI final against Lancaster.
Frontier lost a close game. Myslinski, an intense and loyal coach, beat himself up over it. He hadn’t missed a game, only a practice. Still, he felt he had let his girls down.
“I said to myself, ‘If I wasn’t half an hour late to practice, we would have won,’ ” Myslinski, 41, said. “I told my wife, ‘This is the year.’ ”
It was time to choose. He gave up his job as head football coach and returned to an assistant’s position. He picked lacrosse over the sport that had defined his family for half a century. It really wasn’t a difficult choice.
You see, while football was in his blood, girls’ lacrosse had a bigger place in his heart. Myslinski remembers watching his first women’s game in college. He loved it right away. He also knew that he had a calling to coach girls, and that lacrosse would be the sport.
Myslinski took over the Frontier girls’ program 10 years ago, when it was barely competitive. He immersed himself in lacrosse, studied other programs and turned Frontier into one of the better girls’ programs in the area.
His singular goal, the one that ate away at his competitive soul, was winning the Class A sectional title. Frontier couldn’t get past Lancaster, the queens of local lax. Above all, it was Myslinski’s near-obsession with beating Lancaster that convinced him to focus mainly on lacrosse.
Or maybe it was the hair. Three years ago, after a loss to Lancaster, Myslinski told his players he wasn’t cutting his hair until he won a sectional title. That meant beating Lancaster, which has won nine of the last 10 sectional crowns.
“I’ve been growing my hair for three years now,” Myslinski said. “It’s a little past my shoulders. It’s been trimmed for certain occasions. My wife said if I didn’t trim it for First Communion, she would disown me. I think one of these nights she’s going to cut it while I’m asleep.
“I’ve always been a crewcut kind of guy,” he said. “My mom sees me and starts crying. My mom, she’s a nice Polish lady. She looks at me and says, ‘Ah, you could be such a handsome Polish boy, but you look like Jesus.’ ”
Frontier gets another shot at Lancaster in Thursday’s Class A final at All-High Stadium. The Falcons (11-6) have lost to Lancaster in the final four years in a row. Lancaster is 16-1, including two wins over Frontier (one in triple OT). It looks, uh, hairy for the Falcons.
“It would mean a ton,” said Jackie Dufresne, a senior midfielder who leads Lancaster with 53 goals. “I’ve lost to them twice. Another girl, Julia Hackford, has lost to them three times.
“It would definitely be an upset,” Dufresne said, “because people don’t even think we have a chance. I’ve talked to some parents from other teams who don’t mean to be rude, but they kind of count us out by the way they’re talking.”
It sounds as if Myslinski has the girls embracing the underdog role. Let the perennial champs have all the pressure.
“You do what every coach tries to do,” Myslinski said. “You tell them to play loose, and be excited, but have fun. You tell them it’s you against the world. I said, ‘You have nothing to lose and the world to gain.’ ”
Myslinski has given the girls his all. He brought his football background to lacrosse. He studies film, comes up with inventive strategies. He’s the only coach around who uses zone. He got it from watching Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse basketball teams.
The girls are sponges for information. Men who coach females tell you they want to be treated the same as the men. They don’t mind if you yell now and then. They just want to know what you’re doing to make them better.
“It’s something special to coach girls,” Myslinski said, “to see their commitment level and what they’ll do to sacrifice for their team. That was the kicker for me. I was hooked. I love coaching girls.
“I have to make sure I’m on point every day,” he said, “because if not, they’ll call me out on it. They’ll say, ‘Hey Coach, what’s going on?’ I’ll say, ‘Pick me up. I’m having a bad day.’ Then I’m right back. You can’t fool a high school girl. They know.”
The Falcons know that Myslinski put them first in his coaching career, and they love him for it.
“It meant a lot, especially since he played football in college, that he dropped being head football coach for us,” said Dufresne, who will play lacrosse at Mercyhurst. “We could tell he was really devoted when he did that. He wants us to succeed in every aspect of life.”
Evidence of Myslinski’s devotion hangs onto his shoulders. The girls make fun of his hair. They call it his “flow.” It’s a vivid reminder of the goal, and motivation to win that first sectional title.
“It is,” Dufresne said, laughing, “because his hair looks really bad. His wife hates it, too. We all want to cut it.”
Beat Lancaster, Tim told them, and you can do it at practice on Friday.