New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan is not the only NFL player with lacrosse-playing roots. Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long also will make his second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl this week.
I first became aware of Chris when he and my son played on the same Pop Warner football team soon after we moved to Charlottesville. Chris also played lacrosse as a student at St Anne’s-Belfield (Va.). UVA recruit James King also was on that St Anne’s team, and I saw them play a few times in their senior spring.
The truth is, I am not sure I ever saw a ball actually in Chris’ stick during all that time, but he sure was fun to track when the ball was on the ground. There may have been as many penalties as goals scored in many of those games. There were many skeptics about his college football potential, but he was a dynamo in the weight room. Presently, it is his courage on social justice issues and humanitarian efforts that truly distinguish these later years of his career.
Before Chris Long, there was another UVA defensive end that traveled a very different early path but also had a long, decorated NFL career. I arrived at the New England Top 150 Lacrosse Camp at Williams College for a short visit in the summer of 1994. Upon arrival, one of the coaches mentioned that there was a camper who wanted to talk with me, and I was happy to oblige.
As the following session drew to a close, a young man came across the field while blotting out the sun. He stuck out his hand and said, “Coach Starsia, my name is Patrick Kerney and I would like to talk with you about the University of Virginia.”
A young man came across the field while blotting out the sun. He stuck out his hand and said, “Coach Starsia, my name is Patrick Kerney and I would like to talk with you about the University of Virginia.”
y response to this 6-foot-6, 230-pound specimen, with the old white arm pads and biceps bulging through the straps, was simply, “Son, I have no idea who you are, but we are very interested in talking with you about the University of Virginia.”
I came to find out that Patrick wrestled and played football and lacrosse at the Taft School in Connecticut.
It was always a bit of an oversimplification to say that I just looked for athletes in recruiting, but I was looking for guys who thought they could play football at Virginia. Some were close, like Mark Farnham, Brett Hughes, Steve Holmes and Chris LaPierre. Others were football players in lacrosse players’ bodies, like Darren Muller, Ryan Curtis and Walt Cataldo. A couple had the tools but not the temperament, like Rhamel and Shamel Bratton.
And only one was actually a much better college football player than he ever would have been a lacrosse player. Patrick Kerney was just too big for us and wound up better suited rushing the passer than covering some small, quick college middie.
Early in recruiting, Patrick asked for permission to walk on the football team at UVA. I had a number of these requests over the years and always said yes. You come to college, you need to make some of these decisions for yourself and in every prior case, the players would last 3-4 days at practice before realizing that a walk-on lacrosse player was not going to be handed the ball in a scrimmage nor be allowed to tackle one of the returning veterans.
With Patrick in mind, I went to the football coaches and told them, “I won’t pretend to tell you your business, but I may have one here.” They looked at me like I had two heads, with an expression of, “Yeah, right.” Film of Patrick’s senior year at Taft was very inconclusive because of the quality of play and he missed most of the year with an injured knee.
Recruited walk-ons in football are invited to the start of practice in early August. Others do not see the field until the start of school in September. I talked the coaches into giving Patrick a shot in August, but anticipated that he might have been in my office a week later having had enough of all that. Instead, it was the head football coach, George Welsh, who informed me shortly thereafter that Patrick might be “the best freshman in the class.”
A mere two weeks later, Patrick was one of the few true freshmen to participate in Virginia’s 1995 season opener at Michigan. He went from classes on a Saturday morning and a crowd of about 300 at the Taft homecoming to 108,000 and a game decided on the very last play in the Big House in less than a year.
Patrick enrolled at Virginia on the smallest scholarship we are allowed to provide someone designated as a scholarship athlete. He lettered that fall and the football coach told him that he was expected at spring practice. When Patrick told Coach Welsh he came to Virginia to play lacrosse, Welsh told me that he respected Patrick even more for sticking to his guns.
Patrick lettered in lacrosse that spring for a team that lost in overtime of the NCAA championship game. We would joke that Patrick, with his imposing physical presence, was always going to be the first off the bus when we arrived at a visitor’s site, and I remember walking Coach Pressler over to the practice field just to look at Patrick the day before our game with Duke.
Following that first year, football put Patrick on a full scholarship and it was not a request for him to participate in spring football in his second year. Patrick came back out to lacrosse after spring practice in 1997.
Those few weeks in ’97 were the end of Patrick’s college lacrosse career. He began to realize his potential in football and needed to eat, lift and put on weight. Like Chris Long, Patrick burned white hot in the weight room. He went from 240 to 255 pounds between his second and third years and was almost 270 as a senior. He also worked our lacrosse camp during summers, and I am sure his standing outside the camp store and charging campers to hang from his arms was some sort of NCAA violation.