CLARK, NJ -  Lance Pecina, a 2013 graduate of the Arthur L. Johnson High School, stood out as a leader and mentor to his teammates and coaches at Stockton University. Always aspiring to help others, Pecina received the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) Unsung Hero Award at a student-athlete banquet held at the college on Sunday, April 30, 2017.

Pecina, who graduated in May, earned a degree in Criminal Justice.  He served as the captain of the university’s lacrosse team during his senior year, and was a key defender on the team.

This past season, he scored four goals and dished out four assists, leading the Ospreys to a 16-3 record and an appearance in the Skyline Conference Tournament Title Game.

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“I didn’t find out until we had a senior brunch for athletics,” Pecina said. “I had no idea, she [Stockton Director of Athletic Operations Linda Yost] started slowly, saying, ‘This person has a GPA of 3.52 and is a Criminal Justice major.’ It started adding up that it was going to be me. I just felt shocked and totally grateful because Linda Yost and I had a great meeting a week after it happened and she was great during the process and I can’t thank her enough for that.”

It was more than his athletic success that led to his award.

Pecina was in Atlantic City one night when his friend, another Stockton student, began getting harassed by someone. While intervening, Pecina was punched in the face, suffering a broken jaw.

The injury sidelined him for four weeks, and he was able to rejoin the team just in time for the Skyline Conference Tournament.

“I always said there’s a silver lining in everything that happens to you and although it was awful, getting sucker punched and all that, sticking up for someone was the right thing to do,” his mother Holly Pecina said. “The silver lining was that award and it made up for the four weeks of him not being able to play lacrosse with his brothers on the field during one of the best seasons of his life.”

Pecina received a standing ovation at the awards banquet and earned the accolades of many present. His mother said many told her that “we need more people like Lance.”

“I’ve been watching him ever since middle school, as a sixth grader playing defense against these big eighth graders and he held his own,” his father Lance said. “I said he was going to be a good defensive player and I watched him grow and get better.”

“In high school, he could keep up with the junior and senior boys as a freshman. With his will and determination to play, I knew he was a very good athlete,” he added. “He pushes himself all the time.”

In his four years at Stockton, the team posted a 57-21 record, something that’s never happened with the program.

“My best memory is probably my freshman year, first game against Marywood University [on February 22, 2014],” Pecina said. “We lost, but it was my first collegiate game and [I scored my] collegiate goal as an Osprey.”

“This season, we beat a NESCAC Conference school, which is a pretty big deal for a Stockton, New Jersey school to beat someone from Connecticut,” Pecina added. “We beat Connecticut College 10-7 [on March 21] and that was one of the best wins in program history and that got us a Top-25 mention. So, we were Top-30 at that point. That was a definitely a great memory.”

What’s motivated Pecina to get ready for each lacrosse game?

“The love for the game, inside and out,” Pecina said. “It’s good to be part of a team and build the chemistry with the guys. Every one of those guys I’ve played with, I consider them a brother to me, I really do. To have the comradery with people is a good thing to have in college. It’s helped me stay on track and keep my studies in order.”

Pecina added that he enjoyed being part of a winning tradition with Stockton lacrosse.

“I was very proud to see Lance receive the Unsung Hero award,” Stockton Men’s Lacrosse head Kevin Zulauf said. “Watching Lance grow as a person was great to see. In his time here, he became more and more of a leader every single year. I am very proud of him and I know he has a bright future ahead.”

During his high school career as a Crusader, Pecina was a defender, recording six goals, dishing out nine assists and recording around 179 groundballs. He also served as a captain his senior year. He credits high school coach Lou Van Bergen and middle school coach Mike Robel with giving him a strong foundation in the defensive side of the game.

“He showed potential as a ninth grader and was able to reach it due to his work ethic and character,” Van Bergen said.

Pecina stressed that to get better at the game, you need to go to the weight room, work on speed and playing left-hand and right-hand dominant to become a better lacrosse player.

“We were in a room with all the other athletes, not just lacrosse, there must have been over 150 people there,” his mother Holly added. “They were talking about him in a way that made a parent proud, how he worked hard on the field, but it was his actions off the field as to why he won this award. As a parent, you’re proud that your child sticks up for someone.”