Danowski, Blue Devils kick off '07 campaign

Nearly 300 days after its 2006 season was cut short, Duke could not wait one more to officially start its 2007 campaign when it took the field Friday.

"We were actually going to start tomorrow, but we were all jumping out of our skin," head coach John Danowski said.

The Blue Devils practiced for the first time this spring on a sunny afternoon that seemed an apropos setting for a team that has developed a truer appreciation for the little things-practicing, playing and simply having a season on the horizon.

"We've been looking forward to this opportunity for a while," senior co-captain Ed Douglas said. "I think there's a heightened sense of urgency from the guys knowing we've had something like this taken away. You respect and value the opportunity a little more."

Duke saw its season, and its hopes for the program's first national championship, erased last spring amid charges that members of the team had assaulted a stripper hired to perform at an off-campus party March 13. President Richard Brodhead initially suspended the team from action at a March 28 news conference and cancelled the remainder of the season April 5-the same day former head coach Mike Pressler was forced to resign.

Brodhead reinstated the program June 5, and Danowski was hired to replace Pressler July 21.

Signs of the the ongoing legal case involving three former players lingered on the sideline Friday, as a gaggle of television cameras and several members of the print media were in attendance-a presence that had been all but absent in years past. Danowski welcomed the heightened media attention and reflected on the positives that can be gained from increased scrutiny.

"We love when the media's here," Danowski said. "It's an opportunity to promote who these kids are."

With all the controversy of the past 10 months, however, it was business as usual on the field as players ran drills while coaches looked on.

Thirty-three players have returned from last year's team, but the Blue Devils are hardly the same squad they were in 2006. Two-year captain and 2006 preseason All-American Matt Zash has graduated, as have captains Bret Thompson, Dan Flannery and David Evans, one of the three indicted players.

"We did lose some weapons this year," co-captain Matt Danowski said. "We have a good core group of guys back, and we're going to need some guys to step up and fill roles they didn't play in previous years. But I think we're a pretty talented team. We just have to put it together."

In addition, with all that has transpired during the past year, the Blue Devils could have developed a very large chip on their shoulders. But Duke has rediscovered direction with a new coach, new captains and a new mantra, Succisa Virescit-Latin for "when cut down, it grows back stronger." The players and coaches are conscious of the focus they will need to succeed in a season that will likely be filled with distractions.

"There's a danger that we might try to prove everyone wrong through lacrosse," Douglas said. "When we're out on the field, we need to focus on playing fundamentally sound lacrosse and not try to play beyond ourselves, which is the temptation."

Douglas said John Danowski has been instrumental in helping the team to maintain that focus by providing positive reinforcement and valuable advice.

"One of the things I said to them today is you don't have to prove anything to anybody-just come out here and play," Danowski said. "Just play for the reasons that you came here for-because you love the game, you love your teammates, you love the University, and don't worry that you have to live up to some expectations that might be out of sync."

Greg Beaton contributed to this story.


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