Jeremy Hollenbeck’s list of accomplishments is as long as a kid’s Christmas wish list to Santa this year. The two time All-American from Nazareth College in Rochester was taken in the fourth round of the 1995 National Lacrosse League draft by the Rochester Knighthawks, and never looked back. He spent 10 years playing in Rochester alongside some legendary names such as Paul Gait and Regy Thorpe. Hard work was the key to Hollenbeck’s success and eventually paid dividends. Hollenbeck won a NLL championship in 1997, was named the Knighthawks “Unsung Hero” in 1999, and firmly implanted himself at No. 10 on Rochester’s all-time looseball list. In 2011, Hollenbeck was inducted into the Rochester Knighthawks Hall of Fame. His career will go down in lacrosse history as one of the original members of the Knighthawks — a group of young men who not only won a championship, but built a successful franchise for the fans of Rochester.
1. Did you ever think that your lacrosse career at Naz would lead you to the NLL, or was idea of playing professionally more of a surprise?
Being able to play at Nazareth was a surprising enough for me let alone professionally. When I heard that I was drafted by the Knighthawks, my name did not seem to quite fit with the likes of Matt Riter, Dom Finn, and Regy Thorpe.
2. What was it like to be drafted by Rochester, the same city where you had played your college lacrosse?
Being able to play in Rochester could not have worked out better. Aside from the sheer convenience of driving 10 minutes to practice and games, playing in Rochester just felt like home. The Rochester community had been very enthusiastic and supportive of Nazareth lacrosse and other college programs in the area, which really carried over to the Knighthawks.
3. Describe your feelings before your first NLL practice.
It was both exciting and stressful. Stepping on the floor for the first time with players like Paul Gait, who I grew up idolizing when he was at SU, was pretty surreal and unnerving. Thank god I did not truly know who Dewey Jacobs, Peter Parke, and Randy Mearns were at the time as it was intimidating enough.
4. Was the transition from outdoor to indoor difficult?
Aside from getting used to wearing spandex with no shorts, making the switch to playing the indoor game was challenging for me. Luckily when I first started playing in Rochester, the transition game was more prevalent, which matched my style of play better than the defensive and offensive specialization that the game evolved to by the end of my career. I would say that it truly took me about 8 years of playing both in Canada and for the Knighthawks before I understood the game and felt comfortable playing. There were some things that I never truly felt fluid with, such as shooting, that other guys seemed to have as second nature given that they grew up playing box. Needless to say, I tried to do as much passing as possible.
5. Describe the atmosphere for home games in Rochester?
Playing at home in Rochester was exhilarating. Right from the first game of the inaugural season, there was an excitement and energy that the Rochester fans brought which was invigorating. The success of our team and the organization as a whole was directly attributed to the support of the fans. The fans made you feel like you could do anything.
6. Former Nazareth coach Scott Nelson spoke highly of your work ethic, did your success in the NLL stem from your work ethic?
Working hard was definitely an attribute that was instilled while in high school at Jordan-Elbridge and at Nazareth. Given that I was not the most talented or the biggest player on the team by any means, I did feel like going all-out in practice and games was all that I could do to get noticed and improve. Ultimately though, I was fortunate enough to play as long as I did because I was lucky to be surrounded by players like Randy Mearns, Regy Thorpe, and Tim Soudan, as well as coaches like Paul Day, who would take the time to help me better understand the game. Although I think we only made about $175 a game in the beginning, as a starving graduate student, I needed every paycheck possible, so paying the bills was great motivation for making the line up as well.
7. In 1995, you were drafted by a young Rochester franchise, did you ever think that you would be playing for a NLL championship so quickly?
Given the talent that we had on our team, I did think that we were going to be successful. Although we were a new team, we had leaders like Randy Mearns and Dewey Jacobs who were always stressing the importance of team bonding. After games and on the road, we spent a lot of time with each other which made us perform better as a team. We also had great fans that supported us through every win and loss. Given our connection with each other and with the fans, we were playing for more than just the love of the game.
8. Did you enjoy playing your entire career in Rochester, rather than being traded from team to team?
I could not be happier that I was able to spend all 10 seasons of my career with Rochester. I would not have wanted to play anywhere else.
9. Were there any teams/players that you hated playing against?
Where do I begin? Given the caliber of players and teams in the league, every team was tough and had players that were outstanding. Towards the end of my career, I would have to say Toronto, in Toronto. They were difficult to beat in their backyard.
10. Best memory aside from winning the NLL championship?
Although there were so many great experiences and moments, outside of the championship, one that comes to mind is a game against top-seeded Baltimore, in Baltimore in 1998? Most of our team could not cross the border because of a paperwork issue including our coaches, with the exception of one of the assistant coaches, Tom Cincebox. Although the odds were not in our favor, somehow we were able to pull out a win.
11. What was it like playing in front of nearly 20,000 people for the 1997 NLL championship?
Although it was always a pretty hostile crowd in Buffalo, the energy and noise in the building were exhilarating. It was one of those moments that you dream of as a kid and we were lucky to experience in real life.
12. Your career finally came full circle when you were inducted into the Knighthawks’ Hall of Fame. What is it like seeing the Knighthawks thrive, knowing you were an original member that put the team on the map?
Being inducted into the Hall of fame came as a complete surprise and was a very humbling honor. I feel very lucky and proud to have been able to experience playing with the Knighthawks and being a part of the organization as a whole from the inaugural season. Even now, the Knighthawks administration includes the past alumni and our families in the organization by inviting us to games and events helping us feel connected with the current team and fans. Although it is not something that the present organization is obligated to do, it is greatly appreciated.
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