Mar 5, 2014, 12:49 PM EDT
Everyone knows Maryland is where you go for good crab. What most people west of the Appalachian Mountains forget is that Maryland—more specifically, Baltimore—is also a breeding ground for lacrosse. From Towson, a suburb due north of Baltimore, Jack and Conor Doyle are two of nine Maryland natives on the Notre Dame roster. Conor, a junior attackman for the Irish, and Jack, a graduate student midfielder, graduated from the Gilman School before making their way to Notre Dame.
Football is to Texas as Lacrosse is to Baltimore
“[Lacrosse] is kind of its own subculture in Baltimore.” That subculture Conor spoke of allows for some pretty tough contests, but—to be a little cliché—what didn’t kill the Doyle’s only made them stronger. “That’s probably one of the reasons we were able to come to a school like Notre Dame. Competition is great in Baltimore. It gave us a lot of experience growing up.”
Lacrosse has been a large part of their lives for a very long time. “You’re kind of born with a stick in your hand in Baltimore,” Jack said. “It’s kind of the sport.” Even though neither of their parents played (Their father, Kevin, ran cross-country and track at the College of William & Mary and their mother, Grace, played soccer there), all five children in their family tried their hand at lacrosse at one point or another. Their oldest brother played at the Naval Academy and their younger sister, a senior in high school, is already slated to play for the women’s lacrosse team at Notre Dame in the fall. The youngest Doyle son also plays the family sport.
Growing up around so much lacrosse was “a lot of fun,” Conor said. “You can relate with everybody in the family over something. It brings us together to some degree. Also, we were able to challenge each other.”
The total age span between the youngest and oldest of the Doyle children is 13 years. Jack and Conor have the smallest age difference of the siblings; just two years. Not only are they nearest in age, but according to Jack, they also had the closest relationship growing up. When they were younger, the two boys hoped to play college lacrosse together one day. “I remember being in the backyard talking about where we’d go to school one day,” Jack said. “I guess what makes lacrosse different from football, hockey and basketball as the highest level in this sport is college lacrosse. You dream about playing in college and dream about the Final Four.” But their paths took different turns, which made the idea of ever playing together seem like a distant reality. Before arriving at Notre Dame, Jack made a three-and-a-half year pit stop at Harvard University.
After Jack got to Harvard, he was hit with the injury bug. “I was pretty excited to start up there, but I was injured since the day I stepped onto campus.” Jack arrived in Cambridge (Mass.) in the fall of 2009. The following spring, he broke his foot. Then, in 2011, doctors discovered torn labrums in his hips, at which point, he decided to take time off playing lacrosse to get two surgeries. Jack returned in the fall of 2012, but a partial fracture in his foot kept him out for spring of 2013. This past fall, he was able to accelerate his studies and in December he graduated with a degree in Government Studies from Harvard. In short, Jack’s injuries forced him to miss two full years of college lacrosse, closing one door in Cambridge, but opening another in South Bend.
“I guess it kind of crossed my mind [that he could come to Notre Dame] when he sat out a year or two,” Conor recalled. “My freshman or sophomore year, we kind of talked about it a little bit, that he might have some extra eligibility once he graduated Harvard, and it might be possible for us to play together. We talked about it for a bit, but now that it was able to come to fruition, it is something special.”
Sibling pairs are far from rare at Notre Dame, but it is rare to have the younger sibling arrive first, making the Doyle’s situation quite unique. “It was different being the established brother on the team,” noted Conor. “We went to the same high school, so [there], it was more of him showing me the ropes, big brother helping me out. So we had a bit of role reversal. It’s been fun.”
“It’s weird coming to a different team halfway through the year in the first place. Even the freshmen are all acclimated to the way things work. They won’t take it slow or anything for me, so I had to take it on the fly. But everyone was really helpful. Having Conor helps me socially and makes it easier for me to learn everything. All the players and coaches have been great, but I’m still in the transition,” said Jack. He also noted that coming to a new school halfway through the year forces him to “learn by trial.”
Playing lacrosse next year is not a guarantee for Jack yet. He still has to be granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA, but if he gets it, it’ll be the first time in a decade that Jack, Conor and their younger sister, Caroline, will be at the same school at the same time.
It didn’t take Jack long to notice, “the team and the lacrosse program in general here are kind of like a family.” The Doyle’s will continue that tradition, and consequently, it’ll make their parent’s lives much simpler. Up until this point, they’ve been jumping back and forth from state-to-state and school-to-school. “Even when we were in high school,” Conor said, “I’d be playing in this part of the state, and Caroline was in this part or that part.”
“I think we owe a lot of our success in making it to this level to our parents. Ever since we were kids, they’ve been so supportive. They’re always trying to get out [to our games], which is tough,” Jack added. “They’re doing an amazing job. They don’t ever miss anything, so they’ve always made [their presence] seem like something that was expected. Now that we’re more mature, we can realize it and appreciate it more.”
The Lax Appeal
Both Jack and Conor noted that lacrosse is not just a sport for parents to watch. In fact, it has the potential to appeal to very large masses. Lacrosse is as fast as basketball, as physical as hockey or football and requires the skill and intricacy of soccer. “It’s fast-paced and we’ve got a pretty good team and a pretty successful program over the last couple of years,” Jack said. “We’re trying to break through and finish the job.”
Notre Dame is where dreams come true. Despite some detours and unexpected turns along the way, Jack and Conor Doyle have finally arrived at their destination just as they had dreamt about when they were just two boys playing lacrosse in their Baltimore backyard.
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