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No doubt you have all heard of the tremendous success of the Onondaga Community College lacrosse program, winning 11 national championships — including seven of them consecutively from 2009 to 2015. But did you know that two local brothers and coaches from Auburn, Mike and Joe Villano, were a huge part of that success? They are both retired from the program now, but their story is a great one that I know you’ll enjoy.

These two Auburn brothers coached at the Onondaga Community College lacrosse program for 17 years, and had much success in their tenure. Mike Villano was the head assistant coach, and Joe Villano was the assistant defensive coordinator.

Joe Villano was a 1991 graduate of Auburn High School, where he was a two-sport athlete, playing football and lacrosse. Joe received multiple awards as a student athlete, and was team captain of both his football and lacrosse teams his senior year. Joe had multiple offers to play football at four-year colleges, but decide to go the junior college route.

Joe attended Hudson Valley Community College, where he played football and lacrosse. In Joe’s senior year he decided to focus on lacrosse. After his final year at HVCC, he received a full ride to Division I Hartford College, where he was a two-year starter and team captain in his senior year.   

Mike Villano also graduated from Auburn High School, where he was a three-sport athlete, playing football, basketball and lacrosse, and receiving multiple awards as an athlete and student. Mike graduated from Auburn High School in 1995, and had multiple offers to play lacrosse at four-year colleges, but decided to attend Herkimer Community College to play lacrosse and get his associate's degree.

At that time Herkimer was a lacrosse powerhouse among junior colleges, having won numerous regional and national titles. At Herkimer, Mike was a two time all-American and won a national championship his senior year in 1997. Upon graduating from Herkimer, Mike then received a full scholarship to play Division I lacrosse at Hobart College. Hobart’s second year at the Division I level, Mike helped the team to their first playoff berth at that level, and a national ranking of eighth, which would be Hobart’s highest ranking to date at the Division I level. At Hobart Mike was the defensive MVP, and made the Division I North/South All-Star game. Mike graduated from Hobart with a bachelor’s in fine arts degree, and was drafted to play in the Professional National Lacrosse League in 1999 for the Albany Stealth. He also played for the Debeer Lacrosse Semi Pro team for a number of years.

In 2002, Mike was asked by a former Hobart teammate, Chuck Wilbur, to be the head assistant coach at a lacrosse program re-starting up at Onondaga Community College. Mike accepted the challenge. From 2002 to 2005 Chuck Wilbur and Mike Villano started building the program from the ground up, and were making progress. At that time transportation to games, field time and even recruiting was a challenge. In 2005 Chuck asked Joe to join the coaching staff at OCC. Joe accepted the challenge, and the rest is history.

The Villano brothers orchestrated a hard-hitting and stingy defense from 2002 to 2018. In the 17 years of coaching the OCC Lazers, the lacrosse team has compiled the following stats:

• Earning a 266-15 win-loss record;

• Winning 17 consecutive Mid-State Athlete Conference championships;

• Winning 14 consecutive Region 3 championships;

• Winning 11 national championships, including seven straight from 2009 to 2015.

The OCC lacrosse program currently holds the record for the longest win streak in collegiate lacrosse sports history with 107 wins in a row.  

Mike and Joe’s defense has held opponents to an average of five goals a game since 2005, and in 2008 they were named Nike Assistant Coaches of the Year. In 17 seasons, the OCC coaching staff has helped produce 25 professional lacrosse Players, and has helped transfer out countless players at the Division I, II and III levels. These players combined have won 35 national championships for other lacrosse programs after their time at OCC.

The coaching staff’s goal was always to take care of the student athletes. The goal was to move them on to four-year colleges and in the process, make men out of children and to win a few games along the way. When Chuck and Mike took over OCC, the word “family” was the creed and annual theme for the Onondaga lacrosse program from day one. They decorate their gear and clothing with the word “family.” Every freshman that comes into the program is taught that the word "family" is not just a word, it truly means something and family is the key to the team’s success — every season. Mike and Joe Villano were family members for the student athletes, and helped show their "kids" that success can be achieved if brothers are willing to work together for one common goal.

After all, a team is a band of brothers. Mike and Joe Villano helped produce one of the most dominant lacrosse programs in lacrosse history. They worked together as coaches, but more importantly as brothers.

One of their national championship players, Kyle Merrill, had this to say about his coaches: “They were both amazing guys and amazing coaches. They always came to practice with so much energy and truly made the game fun.”

Thank you, Mike and Joe Villano, for truly being Legends of Auburn!

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Ormie King's column appears Sundays in The Citizen and he can be reached by email at ormie5king@gmail.com.

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