Entering 2019, Maryland men’s lacrosse head coach John Tillman finds himself in a bit of an unfamiliar territory in regard to the roster makeup. Over the last few seasons, Tillman has had the luxury of being able to rely on seniors for the leadership and direction of the team. But with a lot of last season’s leaders moving on to professional lacrosse, Tillman will have to ride with this team’s young core going forward.
And Tillman appears ready to do so, exuding a lot of confidence that his young players will step up to the challenge.
“[The younger players] have seen what the older guys have done for them,” Tillman said. “They’ve seen the leadership that [the seniors] have gotten and they take the best aspects they’ve got and they apply it to their own personality.”
Among those Tillman is confident will thrive as a leader is junior attackman Jared Bernhardt. In his freshman and sophomore seasons, Bernhardt shared the field with prolific scorers and leaders in Matt Rambo and Connor Kelly, making this season the first time Bernhardt—who’s now donning the No. 1 jersey previously worn by Rambo and Kelly—will be a true team leader.
But from Tillman’s perspective, Bernhardt has already made that leap.
“You’ll see a guy like Jared who, when he was a freshman, had a very strong 2017 class and you had guys like Matt [Rambo] and Colin [Heacock] who were very gregarious, outspoken, loud, a lot of bravado, strong leaders,” Tillman said. “But Jared is just as strong a leader. He just does it his way, maybe a little more quiet, maybe he pulls a guy aside and he doesn’t say a lot but it means a lot, so it’s neat, it just gets done a different way.”
Bernhardt knows his responsibility, too. Having played with former No. 1s in Kelly and Rambo, Bernhardt has been a sponge for how they carried themselves and plans on bringing those same qualities to the number this season.
“Those guys [who wore No. 1] always worked hard, I looked up to them,” Bernhardt said. “Connor honestly took people under his wing, I always looked up to him, was always asking questions, but yeah, I’m definitely ready for that [responsibility].”
Some burden does come with that responsibility. Bernhardt will also likely be more of a focal point of opposing team’s game plans this season, as he has become the main option on Maryland’s offense. But Bernhardt isn’t too worried. Logan Wisnauskas and Bubba Fairman had outstanding freshman seasons, and there are plenty of other offensive players who have been waiting to step up and take on a bigger role.
“I think as a whole, our biggest thing is we have a lot of depth this year, and I think that with new guys coming in we try to make sure it’s not just one guy, you have multiple guys that teams have to prepare for,” he said.
Tillman isn’t worried that Bernhardt will get caught up in trying to replicate what Rambo or Kelly did. He believes the offense won’t have to run through one player, and that Bernhardt just needs to stay within himself.
“We never try to tell Jared Bernhardt, ‘You need to be Matt Rambo,’” Tillman said. “Jared just needs to be his best and be the best player he can be, and if he can do that and everyone buys into a team system, then why can’t we have a great year?”
Along with Bernhardt, the contributions from sophomores Wisnauskas and Fairman will play a vital role in the team’s youth movement. The trio comprises most of Maryland’s returning scoring, and with most of the senior experience on the defensive end, the Terps will need those young attackers to step up as leaders.
Ultimately, regardless of who the team’s leaders are, Tillman’s goal is always the same: to win it all.
“[Expectations] never change here, it’s a new journey with new parts and it’s always fun and exciting but the standard is the standard here, we embrace it, it motivates us.”