Senior midfielder Mark Whaling has already won four Ivy League championships in his career at Princeton and will win a fifth if the men's lacrosse team can sweep its remaining three league contests.
And no, Whaling is not violating any NCAA rules.
While most members of the lacrosse team play fall ball and develop team chemistry throughout the autumn months, Whaling is chasing quarterbacks and batting down passes. Men's lacrosse head coach Bill Tierney allows all of this behavior, though, because Whaling is also a starting defensive lineman for the football team.
In addition to being a part of lacrosse's Ivy League champion ship teams of the past three years, Whaling became a starter during the football team's 1995 league championship run.
Four titles in three years.
Whaling is one of a rare breed: the two-sport Princeton athlete. For him, two sports have always been part of the equation. Even when he went through the process of choosing schools, the senior knew that he wanted to wear two different sets of shoulder pads.
"Coming out of high school, (playing two sports) was a big priority of mine," Whaling says. "I'm glad it has worked out well, because there were a lot of people who said that I couldn't do it, that it would be too hard. A lot of people have failed doing it, so I'm glad that I've been able to keep with it."
Tierney, however, does not rank among those naysayers.
"If you talk to all the coaches around here, we all believe that this is the finest academic-athletic university in the country," Tierney says. "We're for these kids. If it means that we all have to sacrifice a little bit, so be it."
Indeed, the requirements on a two-sport athlete would seem to be near impossible. Princeton's academic workload by itself can seem daunting at times. Then add official practices for all but two weeks out of the year and see how much work can get done. But none of it seems to faze Whaling.
"I think it's definitely not as hard as some people would make it out to be," Whaling says. "There were times with my thesis that I definitely would have liked to have had the afternoon off to do some work. Every athlete here has been able to balance (sports and academics), so all I do is do it twice."
Perhaps most impressive among his balance is that of his thesis, which deals with how Princeton changed during the 1960s. Unlike many in the class of '98, Whaling, a history major completed his independent work long before the deadline. He wrote the bulk of it during lacrosse preseason, February and early March, after doing the research during the fall football season.
More conflicts arose for Whaling from the two sports themselves than between books and helmets. Football has its spring practices during the heart of the lacrosse campaign, while football season prevents fall lacrosse.
When Whaling does get on the field, the results have been impressive. He garnered all-Ivy honors his junior and senior seasons as a defensive tackle, serving as one of the leaders on a defense that ranked among the best in the Ivy League.
With a stick, Whaling has completely come into his own this season. The senior started his career as a defensive midfielder because of his size. When he didn't fit there, Tierney tried him as a faceoff man. Whaling has also been used as a designated clearer, a player who helps get the ball to the offense after a save or an opponent's missed shot.
As a senior, he has found a comfortable spot on the second midfield line and has eight points so far this season (six goals, two assists).
Whaling's contributions to lacrosse, however, show up more on the field and in practice than on the scoreboard.
"Being a teammate is very crucial to the happiness of our guys," Tierney says. "He has done a great job of bringing (freshman midfielder) Rob Torti along. That's one of the reasons we put Torti with Whaling and (senior midfielder Seamus) Grooms."
In the locker room
After lacrosse's 13-5 win over Yale, in which the Tigers led the lowly Elis only 5-3 at the half, Tierney lambasted his team for its poor performance. Whaling, however, talked to the team after the coach left and reminded his teammates what was important.
"I was just like, 'I've been in the other locker room after some losses, so let's not beat ourselves up too much. Let's make sure we're enjoying winning,' " Whaling says. "I just wanted to make sure we were not losing sight of why we play."
Whaling must continue his steady play and steadying influence for the lacrosse team to win the rest of its games and go deep into the NCAA tournament.
"Sometimes he'll try to do too much," Tierney says.
Too much. Mark Whaling really doesn't know what that means.