Ben Reeves has excelled on the field as a two-time Tewaaraton finalist, but he works just as hard off of it, studying as a molecular, cellular and developmental biology major.

The Brilliance of Ben Reeves

Back in high school, the alarm on Ben Reeves’ iPhone played “Rap God” by Eminem. So when morning came, the rap song jumpstarted his fast and frenzied days.

“That routine definitely killed it for me,” Reeves says with a laugh. “Now I go with the standard ringtone. I think it’s a buzzer.”

It’s a minor anecdote about Reeves, a senior attackman for the Yale men’s lacrosse team and two-time Tewaaraton Award finalist. But it’s also the starting point each day to a demanding and ambitious schedule that portrays a poster child for the NCAA’s definition of student-athlete.

Before the Bulldogs’ 2018 season got underway, Reeves’ day typically looked something like this: Wake-up call at 8 a.m., class from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., lab until 5 p.m. once a week, practice late in the afternoon, and then library visits until the wee hours of the morning.

“I’m actually a big procrastinator,” Reeves says, “and we have these buildings that never close, so I don’t feel pressured to do work immediately. I’ll sit around and waste some time, then work until it’s 2 or 3 in the morning. But now I go to this library that closes at 1:45 and it forces you to go home. I’ll admit it, I’m a night owl.”

“He’s probably in the top two or three players all-time [at Yale], if not the top. ... I’ve honestly been impressed by him so many times, that I’m sort of numb to it by now.” - Yale coach Andy Shay on Reeves

That sort of hectic nature is borne from Reeves’ coursework, as he’s a molecular, cellular and developmental biology major. The 21-year-old from Macedon, N.Y., outside Rochester, keeps track of it all in a Moleskine planner, regimenting how long each task should take — lacrosse, classes, meetings and the like.

He’s also in a comparative anatomy lab this semester, where they’ve been examining vertebrates from different organisms.

“Last week we looked at different slides under a microscope and tomorrow we’re doing the same thing,” Reeves says, “looking at vertebrates and doing cross-sections and looking for differentiating features.”

They’re topics of conversation that one might not expect from a lacrosse player of Reeves’ caliber. He’s a two-time All-American and Yale’s all-time leading scorer. But these subjects invigorate him the most.

Andy Shay, Yale’s 15-year head coach, says it’s commonplace to come across people like Reeves on campus, but adds there’s definitely something special about Reeves beyond the 112 goals and 89 assists he has piled up on the lacrosse field.

“He’s probably in the top two or three players all-time, if not the top,” Shay says of Reeves, who racked up 42 goals and 37 assists to go with a 3.88 GPA as a junior. “But I try not to think of it like that. It unnecessarily puts pressure on him. I’ve honestly been impressed by him so many times, that I’m sort of numb to it by now.”

In the fall, Reeves says, he increases his course workload and Shay gives his team’s sole captain some leeway with academic priorities. During the Ivy League tournament, Shay and his coaching staff help proctor exams, too.

“We try and accommodate these guys as best as they can,” Shay says. “If they have a lab or too much on their plate academically, they do that first. We have to be more efficient with what we do.”

What drives Reeves? Joe Hill, his high school lacrosse coach at Palmyra-Macedon, recalls the work ethic he first witnessed in Reeves, who started playing varsity in eighth grade.

“I remember the first time I saw him play, and he looked like he was in fourth or fifth grade,” Hill said. “He drove the cage on a fast break and made this unbelievable pass instead of shooting. I said, ‘I could work with a kid who has that type of vision at that age.’”

Hill worked with Reeves plenty, but much of it came about by Reeves’ own doing. He originally committed to Hobart, and then a coaching change for the Statesmen caused Reeves to look elsewhere for Division I options.

Reeves says he was motivated even more to become the best version of himself on and off the field once Shay recruited him to Yale. But Reeves’ older brother, Jeremy, who played soccer at Geneseo, says that sort of drive was always there for the youngest sibling of four.

“There was a time where he went out with a shovel and cleared out the back yard of snow so he could run his own drills,” Jeremy Reeves says. “Yeah, I played lacrosse in high school, but he’d drill something in one day that took my entire career to get. He picked up a stick and it was like an extension of his arm.”

For Hill, a similarly snow-filled story comes to mind when characterizing Reeves. Hill also coaches basketball at Palmyra-Macedon. The team returned from a recent away game at 10:30 p.m. They pulled into the parking lot, and Hill heard repeated thumps coming from outside. There was Reeves, wailing away on a wall in the freezing cold.

“I didn’t know what was going on, but the kids see that and say holy crap,” Hill says. “He’s one of those top players, but it’s not good enough for him.”

After falling in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Reeves' first three years, Yale is determined to overcome its postseason kryptonite.

Also central to Reeves’ makeup is a drive to help others.

Last summer, he worked in a lab at the University of Rochester’s Medical Center, studying lung development in prematurely born babies. They received lungs from babies ranging from a day old to 10 years, and would look at different stem cell types, with a keen focus on fibrotic diseases.

“It was a really awesome experience,” Reeves says. “I enjoyed the lab and all the parts that came with it.”

Reeves also is in the midst of applying to and interviewing for jobs in New York City and back home near Rochester, then plans to apply to medical school in a year or two. He’s not sure what he’d want to focus on come medical school. He once told Hill he wanted to cure cancer. Now cardiology and neurology pique his interest the most. Further, if his schedule allows, Reeves hopes to play in Major League Lacrosse.

When Reeves is back home in the winter and summers, he also makes a point of helping out with the Palmyra-Macedon program. Lefties look up to him. “As much as I love that and appreciate it, I hope he’s playing in some important games late in the season,” Hill says.

That brings up perhaps the most pressing point about Yale in 2018: figuring out how to go deep into the NCAA tournament. In Reeves’ first three years, the Bulldogs have successively lost in the first round to Maryland, Navy and Syracuse.

From that, Reeves, also a soccer and football player in his younger days, says Yale fully expects a final four appearance and to be playing at Gillette Stadium come Memorial Day weekend. That all starts, he adds, with getting to the Ivy League tournament and squashing their NCAA tournament kryptonite.

What looms larger, though, is the legacy Reeves could leave behind.

“The one thing I want to leave behind is elevating Yale lacrosse and Yale athletics more,” Reeves says. “I want to put them on a national scale and to get them considered more of a national powerhouse than they’ve been traditionally. I really want that to be reinforced in the lacrosse world.”

Hill hopes Reeves’ legacy has a holistic element, too.

“He works extremely hard, and that’s what he’ll leave with people,” Hill says. “He used to play wall ball and work out and come home to study for three or four hours. In my 16 years of coaching in multiple sports, I’ve honestly never encountered it before.”

That’s likely because few encounter people like Reeves.

“A lot of people could get admitted to Yale and say I’m going to coast and do whatever, but it’s not what he’s done in the slightest,” Shay says. “Every day he’s here, he’s really gotten the most out of this.”