My dad beside me and Coach Tilman leading the way, we walked out from the Varsity Team House and into my childhood dream.
The Byrd Stadium at the University of Maryland.
I was a Junior in High School. We were in Baltimore early with the New England team for the Under Armour Tournament, but we managed to squeeze in a campus visit before the games began. We had spent the day navigating the campus via a golf cart emblazoned with the Maryland logo. I couldn’t get over just how big Maryland was. Until now.
We stepped over old grass (this was in the days before they switched to turf) and I could smell it. In that moment, I had no care in the world. All I could do was visualize playing on that field. And I would, for four years that seemed as long then as they feel short now.
I looked at my dad. He had this huge smile on his face. He didn’t have to say anything.
It wasn’t until the following year that I could appreciate how memories can motivate even after the people in them are gone.
Biding My Time
My dad played football in college. My brother followed in his footsteps. When I discovered lacrosse in 3rd grade, the dynamic of the game immediately struck me. I found it more creative than football. It was more free-flowing, which I liked. I just had fun. From that point forward, I had no question that it was something I wanted to pursue. The only question was, how?
I thought I understood recruiting. My big brother is a football coach at UConn. I had witnessed the inbound nature of football recruiting when my brother went through it.
As a result, I interpreted my role in the process as sitting back and waiting to see which schools expressed interest. I thought the most actionable part of the process from my end would be choosing among those colleges. As you can see, I understood recruiting to be a very passive process. In reality, this could not be further from the truth. There were many complexities to lacrosse recruiting that I could only appreciate retroactively after making it through to the other side. I suppose the same can be said of many things in life – the importance of time spent with family is one example, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll get to this part of the story. But first, lacrosse.
A Turning Point
Recruiting in the lacrosse world operates with two important distinctions. First, it begins much earlier. Second, it’s not an inbound recruiting game. Lacrosse recruiting requires outreach from the athlete.
I received a lot of hand-written letters and emails, but had no way to know who to follow up with. Emails contained no real information – no “inside scoop” about the schools that may have aided my decision-making process. As a result, my own email outreach was sporadic, at best. I was treading in the dark. Having no system to track correspondence meant that on occasion, an opportunity would fall through the cracks. Through a busy summer circuit, I missed out on following up with Ohio State. My recruiting process was in disarray. And it cost me.
In recruiting, lack of education has a high sticker price. Coming from a non-hot bed area, my parents wanted to give me the opportunity to play collegiate lacrosse. We had no way of differentiating between events worth attending, so our approach was to attend them all. My family carried this financial burden throughout my recruiting process.
Then, my dad got sick. Suddenly, my family’s time and money was split between tournaments and treatment centers. My parents were able to attend most games, except when there was overlap with appointments at medical centers. On those occasions, I would travel to tournaments with my best friend, Matt Prezioso, and his parents. Perhaps my view of the recruiting process became distorted in some respects, because mine was inextricable from the storm my family weathered. Everything became amplified. The confusion, the doubt, the dread, the complexity. The feeling of being out of control. The pain in my personal life complicated a process that was already inherently daunting.
But I worked hard, and I made it. Following a successful tryout, I was selected to represent New England in the Under Amour All-American Underclassmen Games. This was my golden ticket.
While down in Baltimore for the game, my parents and I took a tour of the University of Maryland with the newly appointed head coach, John Tillman. He took us on a golf cart around campus and showed us the facilities. The visit ended with my dad and I walking onto the field in Byrd Stadium with coach Tillman. Seeing the smile on my dad’s face as he gazed into the empty stadium made me realize the exciting opportunities the future would hold.
Maryland was a dream school, so by the time my dad and I stepped foot on the field during my campus visit, my decision was already made. I was going to commit to the University of Maryland.
It’s strange now to realize that my first meeting with my Maryland head coach turned out to be my last Maryland memory with my dad. I had no way of knowing that one year later, Coach Tillman would support me by coming to my dad’s funeral.
The Final Four
In 2005, I watched Maryland play Duke in the National Championship at Lincoln Financial Field. This was my first collegiate game – the one that made me fall in love with the sport of lacrosse. I was ten years old.
Fast forward ten years to Memorial Day weekend of my senior year. There I was, standing on that exact same field, wearing the Maryland jersey for the last Final Four of my collegiate career. I wore number 42, same as my dad wore in college, because the moments I thought back to my dad’s joy about me going to Maryland were when I pushed myself the hardest.
It was sunny. Everything was just as I remembered from being a spectator at that Maryland game ten years prior. I wish I could give you more sensory details, like how 40,000 filled seats looked from the the field below, or the sound that exploded from the stands when we won the Final Four against Hopkins. All I remember is that it happened so fast. We played Hopkins on Saturday. The championship was on Monday. That weekend was a blur in which each moment blended into the next. Out-of-body experience seems a cliche way to describe the feeling. There’s no better way to put it.
I had dedicated eighteen years of my life towards this moment – to play on the biggest stage in college lacrosse – a moment that was the pinnacle and the end.
A New Perspective
When you first see something, it looks totally different from how it looks after you spend real time there. I recall how big Maryland seemed at first, how much there was to it, and then by the time you graduate everything seems so small.
The 40,000 faces in the stands were invisible to me. Right then, the only people that existed were my family. I found them in the crowd. My dad was not among them, but our thoughts gave him presence. I knew in that moment that my family members and I were thinking about him, and our shared time together – the recruiting adventure which led to this moment.
The recruiting chapter is forever special to me because I shared it with my dad. We endured an emotional rollercoaster together, and it turned out to be the best time of my young life. It’s kind of funny how a phase can be comprised of all things you are desperate to avoid – or, at the very least, get through – yet it becomes the one you miss most.