When the Maryland men’s lacrosse team returned to fall practice after winning its first national championship in 42 years, coach John Tillman noticed his squad was more quiet than usual.
Attackmen Matt Rambo and Colin Heacock graduated, taking with them their back-and-forth banter and host of pranks. The duo, who became one of the best offensive tandems in school history, also brought renowned intensity to the practice field.
So, while Rambo and Heacock work toward professional success in Major League Lacrosse, Tillman said Maryland is using its fall training to rebuild a locker room atmosphere.
“It’s kind of neat to see who steps up,” Tillman said. “Losing some strong personalities from last year’s team has certainly been interesting, but I think that’s what’s fun as a coach. Every year is totally different.”
Rambo finished his career with multiple Maryland records, including most career total points (257), most career points in the NCAA tournament (62) and most career goals (155). He won the Tewaaraton Award, given annually to the nation’s best player, last season as a senior.
Heacock, meanwhile, racked up 93 goals and 36 assists with the Terps.
In practice, the pair high-fived in defenders’ faces after scoring goals, which then-defender Tim Muller said made the unit play harder. Off the field, Rambo and Heacock roomed together, exchanging pranks such as dumping water on the other while sleeping or hiding important belongings around their house.
Muller and Isaiah Davis-Allen, two All-Americans who anchored the defense, graduated with Rambo and Heacock.
Behind the veterans, the Terps defeated Ohio State, 9-6, in the 2017 national championship. While returning players cherish that memory, they’ve tried to form a new identity this offseason.
“It was an awesome experience,” midfielder Connor Kelly said. “But as of right now, being a senior leader on this team, I’m trying to focus and help this team get ready for the spring.”
Kelly figures to lead Maryland’s offense this season. He’s coming off a 46-goal campaign that included a career-best five goals in the Big Ten tournament championship game and three scores in the Final Four against Denver.
Though he didn’t posses the vocal presence of Rambo or Heacock last year, he said he’s looking to become a role model for underclassmen.
Kelly attributed his breakout 2017 performance to his transition as a freshman. He didn’t start any games that campaign, continuing Maryland’s tradition of not placing pressure on newcomers, but he emulated how veterans carried themselves in practice.
Defender Bryce Young was an honorable mention All-American last year after starting just three games as a rookie. Even Heacock didn’t receive his first start until midway through his second year.
Young hopes the Terps’ latest crop of freshman, led by No. 1 recruit Bubba Fairman, can follow that same developmental path. In turn, he believes the senior class can replicate the leadership shown by its predecessors.
“Maryland’s a place that recruits high-level athletes,” Young said, “and being able to just plug people into the system is what the [program] has prided itself on.”