Mazza in right frame of mind to re­claim his ca­reer with Tigers

Sus­pen­sion, bout of self-pity kept him off field since 2018

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Ed­ward Lee

Just sec­onds af­ter scor­ing a goal with 1 minute, 12 sec­onds left in the sec­ond quar­ter of Satur­day’s 15-7 loss to then-No. 13 Johns Hop­kins, Tow­son men’s lacrosse at­tack­man Jon Mazza turned and be­gan to point and shout to­ward a sec­tion of the stands ad­ja­cent to Homewood Field.

It was such a puz­zling show­ing that even his team­mates were un­sure of Mazza’s in­ten­tions.

“My team­mates were mak­ing fun of me be­cause they didn’t know what I was do­ing,” the David­sonville res­i­dent said Tues­day.

“I was just rec­og­niz­ing my par­ents, my sis­ter, and my two aunts and two un­cles. They’ve seen me in the past cou­ple years have a lot of ups and downs, and they’ve been with me the whole time.

“So I just wanted to give them a lit­tle credit. It was the least I could do.”

Con­sid­er­ing it was his first point in 687 days, Mazza’s dis­play of ex­u­ber­ance is eas­ier to un­der­stand. The cir­cum­stances be­hind the long lay­off be­tween points are murkier.

Mazza’s start Satur­day for the Tigers (0-1) was his first since March 24, 2018, in an 11-10 over­time loss at Den­ver. Af­ter an

undis­closed vi­o­la­tion of team rules on the trip home, coach Shawn Nade­len sus­pended Mazza and then-se­nior start­ing de­fense­man Sid Ewell and dis­missed then-red­shirt ju­nior re­serve at­tack­man Dy­lan Kin­n­ear from the team. Al­though Ewell re­turned af­ter miss­ing two games, Mazza sat out the fi­nal seven games.

Mazza and Nade­len de­clined to dis­cuss de­tails of the in­ci­dent that led to the sus­pen­sion, but no charges were filed, ac­cord­ing to on­line court records.

“It was a vi­o­la­tion of team rules,” Nade­len said. “It was not of a crim­i­nal na­ture, but it was some­thing we ad­dressed in­ter­nally.”

Nade­len also par­tially blamed him­self. “I was dis­ap­pointed be­cause it hap­pened un­der my su­per­vi­sion and I didn’t have a good enough fin­ger on the pulse to make sure that we stopped those in­stances from hap­pen­ing,” he said.

De­spite the sus­pen­sion, Mazza met with Nade­len in the sum­mer of 2018 and ap­peared to be on track to suit up again in 2019. But a few weeks be­fore the school year be­gan, Mazza in­formed Nade­len that he would not play.

“So many emo­tions were in­volved,” Mazza re­called. “I was sad, an­gry, dis­ap­pointed, em­bar­rassed.

“Men­tally, I was not ready to come back, and it sucked be­cause my best friends — Zach Goodrich, Alex Woodall, Timmy Mon­a­han, Grant Maloof, Matt Sovero — I didn’t get to play with that last year. That re­ally up­set me. When I’m play­ing on the field, I’m play­ing for them partly.”

Mazza turned his at­ten­tion to his cour­ses and get­ting a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in sports man­age­ment, but he couldn’t stay away from lacrosse. He said he watched ev­ery game last spring — some in per­son, some on tele­vi­sion and some on the in­ter­net. But a con­ver­sa­tion with for­mer Tigers play­ers Matt and Brian Vet­ter that in­cluded some choice words changed Mazza’s mind.

“We were like, ‘ You’re the most tal­ented [guy] we’ve ever met, [but] you’re men­tally soft, men­tally weak. You live off your par­ents, you get to do what­ever you feel like and you’re just a spoiled brat,’ ” said Matt Vet­ter, who was a long-stick mid­fielder. “I think we just gave him some tough love and bru­tal hon­esty.

“There’s also the per­spec­tive of it be­ing over. Af­ter col­lege, it’s noth­ing but ba­bies and mem­o­ries, and you have to work for the rest of your life. You’ve got to en­joy it and take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity in front of you.”

Mazza, who worked out with the Vet­ters for 30 days at 5 a.m. at a cou­ple of gyms out­side An­napo­lis, cred­ited them with help­ing re­vive his pas­sion for lacrosse. He also cited for­mer of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor An­thony Gi­lardi’s pe­ri­odic text mes­sages and calls for keep­ing him at Tow­son.

“I think Jon is a good kid, and like any­one else he’s made some mis­takes, but my goal was to make sure that he grad­u­ated,” said Gi­lardi, who is now the coach at Stony Brook.

“I wanted to do what­ever it took for him and his fam­ily. They en­trusted Jon into my care be­cause I was coach­ing the of­fense.

“He and I had a great re­la­tion­ship the en­tire time he was play­ing, and I wanted to make sure that he was able to grad­u­ated. And if there was a way for him to fin­ish out his ca­reer, I wanted to make that hap­pen be­cause I know how much lacrosse means to him.”

Last sum­mer, Mazza met twice with Nade­len and ex­pressed his de­sire to re­turn. He suf­fered an in­jury and missed fall work­outs but re­cov­ered quickly enough to start at at­tack Satur­day and fin­ish with two goals on five shots, one ground ball and one caused turnover.

Red­shirt se­nior mid­fielder Grant Maloof, who has known the 6-foot-4, 207pound Mazza for the past nine years, is happy to see his friend re­turn.

“It’s awe­some,” said Maloof, who also grew up in David­sonville. “He brings size to our at­tack. We obviously grad­u­ated [at­tack­man] Bren­dan Sun­day, so he can fill that gap. He def­i­nitely brings a lot of things to our of­fense.”

Nade­len said Mazza’s ma­tu­rity ev­i­dent.

“He’s been a kid that has changed his ways in a hum­ble way in re­gard to his role on the team,” the coach said. “He hasn’t taken a back­seat. He re­al­izes that he still has an in­flu­ence on the team, [but] he also knows that guys like [ ju­nior de­fense­man] Koby Smith and [red­shirt se­nior mid­fielder] Grant Maloof and [se­nior mid­fielder] Jake McLean are truly the lead­ers.

“He re­al­izes that he needs to reestab­lish him­self as a team­mate. I think he’s done a pretty good job of that up to this point.”

Mazza chuck­led when asked what he would change if he had the chance.

“I would change a lot of things,” he said. “I think my head got way too big. That cock­i­ness on the field, I car­ried it off the field, and it re­ally came back to haunt me. What goes around, comes around.”

Mazza said be­ing away from the team for more than a full sea­son has given him a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

“The big­gest thing is just hav­ing grat­i­tude,” he said. “My fresh­man and sopho­more years, we had such good lead­ers on the team like Joe Sei­der and Ryan Dren­ner and Mike Lowe and Ben McCarty, guys that I could look up to. When I would stray off the path a lit­tle bit, they would drag me back and make sure that I wasn’t mess­ing up.

“My ju­nior year, I didn’t have those guys. It was up to me to be a leader, and I failed. I’ve talked to Nads a count­less amount of times in his of­fice — some good and some bad. Like I told him, ev­ery bad thing that I’ve done, ev­ery dis­ap­point­ing thing I’ve done, it’s a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and the way you’ve got to look at it is you can only get bet­ter from this.”

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KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Tow­son’s Jon Mazza is back on the lacrosse field for the first time since March 2018.

KARL MER­TON FER­RON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Tow­son’s Jon Mazza (9) says he’s learned a lot dur­ing his time away from lacrosse.

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