Dominique Alexander answers to two names. On the lacrosse field, teammates call him “Big ‘Nique.” At New Albany High School, his students know him as Mr. Alexander.
Alexander plays Major League Lacrosse for The Ohio Machine, but during the week, he teaches health at New Albany and attends graduate school at Ohio State, where he spent his collegiate playing career. Like many professional players in his field, he knows lacrosse cannot pay the bills.
“There’s only a handful of guys able to make some sort of living off it,” Alexander said. “And everyone else is just playing because they enjoy it, being on teams and staying a part of the game. Even if you look at the top players, what they’re making, it’s not enough to make a living,”
The term “professional athlete” for sports like football, hockey and basketball typically means multimillion-dollar annual contracts, but Alexander knows the professional paycheck for lacrosse looks much different.
A 2012 article in The Wall Street Journal revealed that a professional lacrosse player typically earns between $10,000-$25,000 per season, a salary that requires him to work one or more additional jobs.
Balancing a lacrosse career with a full-time teaching position and graduate school has been admittedly hectic, Alexander said. But his decision to continue his lacrosse career came with both an understanding of those complications, and more importantly, their inability to outweigh his love for the game.
“For so many guys, lacrosse ends in high school or in college,” Alexander said. “So to be able to extend my career, keep putting on those pads and keep playing, it means a lot.”
And while many second-semester college seniors approach graduation and the inevitable “real world” with job interviews or graduate school applications, OSU men’s lacrosse captains Jesse King and David Planning are preparing differently, by following Alexander down the professional path.
On Jan. 23, the senior midfielders were each selected in the 2015 Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Draft, getting a chance to continue his lacrosse career as a professional following his final season with the Buckeyes.
King became the second-highest draft pick in OSU history when Rochester chose him during the first round with the sixth overall pick. And despite inevitable obstacles, King said he accepted without any hesitation.
“Obviously it is more difficult to have a career that supports you being a professional lacrosse player,” King said. “Honestly, I didn’t really have a plan for my future until about a couple months ago. All I know is that I definitely wanted lacrosse to be involved.”
King, who grew up in Victoria, British Columbia, begins his senior season with a resumé of 77 collegiate goals and a gold medal from 2014 Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship in Denver.
He has been playing the sport since age 7, and said lacrosse has become much more than a game to him.
“Lacrosse has taught me many life lessons, including honesty, trust, leadership and the meaning of family,” King said. “And that carries on to the next level professionally.”
So what exactly does that next level entail? Professional lacrosse differs from college level lacrosse in that it requires diversity and flexibility on the field, but more importantly, self-discipline off of it, said Bear Davis, vice president and coach for the Ohio Machine.
“In college, these guys have strength-conditioning workouts in addition to weekly practice,” Davis said. “But the biggest difference in the pros is that you have to do your own workouts. Our guys practice Friday night, Saturday morning and play Saturday night, so the whole week leading up to that, they’re on their own.”
Making the transition from collegiate to professional lacrosse means letting go of structure and accepting a more costly level of pressure, Alexander said.
“If you think of a professional, you think of someone who is about their craft and always working on it,” Alexander said. “You have to motivate yourself to get up, go workout, shoot around and hit the wall in the gym to always try and get better. It’s on you. And whether you continue dressing for games depends on how you perform.”
Planning, who was drafted No. 57 in the eighth round by the Machine, has started in 31 of 42 games with the Buckeyes, and possesses both the physical versatility and the mental discipline required at the professional level, Davis said.
“We can only field 12 guys on gameday,” Davis said. “And David has a lot of different skill sets. He can play defense, he can play offense, so he could fill a lot of those spots.”
Planning grew up dreaming of taking the field with the Buckeyes, never imagining his lacrosse career would extend beyond college, and instead planned to pursue a career in politics, he said.
But when the offer came from the Machine, Planning said he did not hesitate.
“Growing up, I always dreamed of playing Division I lacrosse,” he said. “Pro lacrosse was so far removed from my thought process that it never even occurred to me. The chance to play lacrosse at the professional level, especially for the Ohio Machine, is an honor and a blessing.”
While King and Planning admit a career in lacrosse rarely paves a road to fame and fortune, each player said he could not imagine a greater privilege than taking the field on the professional level.
Before officially turning the page to the professional chapter, though, the graduating seniors must first finish the college one.
“For now, I am focused on my senior season,” Planning said. “There is nothing I want more than to bring some shiny hardware back to Columbus at the end of this spring.”
Planning, King and the rest of the Buckeyes started their regular season on Saturday 9-8 loss to the Detroit Titans on the road.