Ned Crotty has returned to the place where it all began. 

Crotty made a name for himself running Duke’s offense from 2006-10, leading the Blue Devils to the 2010 National Championship and winning one of the two Tewaaraton Awards in Duke program history. After eight years playing for Major League Lacrosse’s Rochester Rattlers and Team USA, Crotty decided to return to Duke and join his linemate Matt Danowski and former head coach John Danowski on the Blue Devil sideline. 

“It has been awesome,” junior midfielder Brad Smith said. “Obviously he is super experienced and it also helps that he is a little bit more level-headed sometimes than Coach Matt [Danowski] is. Having [Ned and Matt] as our coaches, perhaps the two best attackmen to come through in Duke history, it’s pretty cool. You know you are learning from the best. They know so much and it gives us a big advantage.” 

Crotty, a New Vernon, N.J., native, is fifth on the career Duke points list with with 239. A two-time first-team All-American at attack, Crotty had 63 assists in 2010 to help lead Duke to the national title. After the season, Crotty was selected first overall in the MLL Draft by the Chicago Machine. He was also the only college student selected to play for the U.S. National Team at the 2010 FIL World Championships. 

Now suiting up for the Dallas Rattlers, Crotty is at the peak of his playing career. After eight seasons in the MLL, Crotty has picked up three All-Star nods, scored 123 goals and assisted on 144. In 2011, Lacrosse All-Stars published an article asking, “Is Ned Crotty the Best Lacrosse Player in the World Right Now?” More recently in 2016, Crotty scored 17 goals and led the Rattlers in assists with 31.

The MLL plays a summer schedule, so many players have started to return to their alma maters to coach in the off-season. Crotty’s presence on the sideline this spring is much appreciated, as the Blue Devils have a wealth of depth on the offensive side of the ball. 

“John Danowski called me up in early July,” Crotty said. “I sat on it for about a week, even though I knew right away, right when he asked me. I [had been] living in New York for about eight years.... It just seemed like a good fit, Matt [Danowski] is married to my older sister, so she is down here. I’m actually the godfather, so on-field, off-field, everything seemed right.” 

Freshman attackman Joe Robertson, who led the comeback against Denver last Saturday, and sophomore attackman Joey Manown can learn a lot under the tutelage of the former Tewaaraton winner. Through the first four games of the season, Duke is second in the nation in assists with 9.8 per game, second in points per game with 27.3 and second in the nation in shot percentage at .467. 

The offense came alive in the fourth quarter against the Pioneers, with Duke creating shot opportunities that did not seem to be there. Crotty attributed it to the grit that Danowski-coached teams often exhibit. 

“They showed fight,” Crotty said. “To be down 12-8 going into the fourth quarter—[Denver] went on a run in the third, winning face-offs, and Coach [Danowski] challenged them between the third and fourth quarters and they fought back.” 

Crotty’s position as both a current pro lacrosse player and a coach gives him a unique perspective on the Blue Devils. The players can respect him but can also connect with him as a former Duke student and player. As a coach, Crotty can see things that the other coaches can’t. 

“I like to think, you know obviously because of what I did here and what I am still doing as a player, it gives me something big,” Crotty said. “They respect me and what I say…especially the offensive guys. When I am watching them do something, I can pull them aside and go, ‘Hey, in this situation, try this,’ or, ‘Technique-wise, try this, drop your shoulder here.’ So in small situations, I think I have definitely been able to help.” 

Crotty hopes to be around to help most of the season, as the MLL preseason does not even start until late March. His team, the Rattlers, just moved to Texas after playing in Rochester, N.Y., since 2011. 

“There are a lot of guys that coach that play in the MLL as well,” Crotty said. “So with the way our schedules match up, I may be able to play in two games before Memorial Day weekend. I won’t be able to really play in the MLL until after that. For right now, obviously a huge benefit is having the facilities that we have here. Matt and I are able to train and shoot to make sure we stay in shape. But in terms of my mindset, you know, [Duke] is it.”