Just before the Maryland men’s lacrosse team faced No. 8 Yale on Saturday, coach John Tillman gathered his players for an announcement.
He told the Terps long pole Nick Brozowski would lead the squad onto the Maryland Stadium field holding an American flag in honor of Brendan Looney, one of nine U.S. troops killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan on Sept. 21, 2010.
Looney, who played for Tillman when he was an assistant at Navy, would have turned 36 last Friday.
Brozowski said carrying the flag to honor the former Midshipmen star was perhaps his biggest source of pride since arriving at Maryland, though he also rebounded from a devastating injury to become a contributor with the Terps this year.
“When they chose me … it meant a lot,” Brozowski said. “Knowing the things [Looney] and other troops do and being able to kind of represent them with that flag was just an awesome experience.”
Brozowski’s brother, Derek, is a Marine who fought in Afghanistan and Yemen.
“I love what my brother does for this country and I know how much he had to put into it,” the redshirt sophomore said. “There were times he’d call me saying, ‘Dude, I want to come home so bad.'”
Brozowski is nine years younger than his brother, but they remain close. Through the years, Derek Brozowski has been a role model who points his sibling in the right direction.
Once, when Nick Brozowski was a high school freshman, his older brother offered a stern warning he’s remembered since.
“He pulled me over and was like, ‘Hey, [don’t] do any stupid things to mess up your future,'” Brozowski said. “From then on out any time I was in a bad situation … I would always think of him.”
But Brozowski could not control the slew of setbacks that dogged him from a young age.
In middle school, he cut his hand when it went through a glass window, robbing him of feeling in the area. He also broke his collarbone twice.
In February 2014, as an ambulance rushed Brozowski, then a senior at Concord-Carlisle High School, away from an ice hockey rink where an opponent had sliced his leg open with a skate, he believed he’d torn his Achilles and worried it would affect his first year at Maryland.
“I was pretty sure something was seriously wrong,” Brozowski said. “I was giving myself the worst-case scenario. It was February at the time, so I was looking at six months [of recovery] in my head.
“I’m like, ‘Will I be ready to go by the time I get to Maryland? Will I be fully recovered?'”
At the hospital, the doctors reassured Brozowski the injury was just a cut on his leg. They even told him he could return for his high school hockey team’s playoffs a few weeks later.
The severe pain he experienced the next morning surprised him.
“I went back to school the next day and they started trying to make me put weight on it,” Brozowski said. “I kept trying to walk on my leg, and I remember one time I tried walking and I just completely fell down.”
Brozowski went back to the doctor, and an MRI revealed a torn Achilles, requiring surgery. Instead of the six-month recovery time he initially feared, the setback took a year and a half to fully heal, forcing him to redshirt his first season in College Park.
He felt distraught but was motivated to return.
After participating in 11 games last season, Brozowski planned intense summer training. Each day, he was one of the first players to arrive at practice and the last one to leave, attackman Colin Heacock said.
Sometimes, Tillman would drive by the practice field in the evening as he left the campus and see Brozowski outside by himself, working on his footwork and shot accuracy.
“It would be 100 degrees out and that young man would be working his butt off,” Tillman recalled.
Brozowski obsessed over his recovery for his own benefit and to help the Terps win a national championship this season.
“I wanted to rebuild everything that I’d lost from my Achilles,” Brozowski said. “[I tried] to show that I was committed to being better and I wanted to play.”
So far, Brozowski’s commitment has translated to on-field success. In four games, he’s scored on all three of his shots, including one against Yale last weekend.
While he used to struggle on offense, scoring only three times in his high school career, the defensive-minded midfielder has incorporated shooting and stick work into his repertoire.
“[Attacking from the long pole position] is a really good opportunity to help our team get goals,” Brozowski said. “Transition [offense] is a really difficult thing to defend.”
Heacock marveled at how complete Brozowski has become by developing his attack.
“He’s just up and down, a great defender, and then also on the offensive side, he’s just sneaky,” Heacock said. “He’s always hanging around, working off ball. It’s awesome being able to find him on the field.”
After Tillman watched Brozowski work to gain a spot in Maryland’s rotation this year, the coach said he “couldn’t be more happy” for the long pole’s success.
And knowing Brozowski’s older brother served as a Marine, the coach didn’t hesitate to reward him with the opportunity to carry the flag last weekend.
Tillman said the image of Brozowski rushing out to midfield, the flag rippling behind him in the wind with a legion of Terps close behind, was vivid.
“I have a picture of that,” Tillman said. “It’s one that kind of gives me chills.”