Bryce Dabbs and Drew Snider don't really know each other.
But if the midfielders for the Navy and Maryland men's lacrosse teams had a chance to sit and talk, they might be surprised at how similar their journeys have been.
Dabbs, a junior for the Midshipmen, played sparingly as a freshman and then had his sophomore year wiped out after being ruled academically ineligible. Snider, a senior for the Terps, was almost cut as a freshman.
When No. 17 Navy (5-4) and No. 11 Maryland (5-3) meet Friday night at Byrd Stadium, Dabbs and Snider will take the field as starters who have overcome obstacles and persevered to pursue the sport they love. It's a somewhat surreal feeling for the duo.
"I was supposed to be a starter last year until I was ineligible, which was probably the most humbling thing in my life," Dabbs said. "Not being able to play kind of makes you think how much you miss it."
Said Snider: "Honestly, I never would have thought that I'd be on the East Coast playing lacrosse. I knew I wanted to play lacrosse, but I didn't know I could come to this level and play."
Both players might lack the star quality associated with some of their peers, but each has demonstrated his importance to his team. With 11 points on eight goals and three assists, Dabbs is the Midshipmen's most productive midfielder. Snider's 14 points (nine goals and five assists) are the fourth-most among all Terps.
Dabbs, a native of Damascus in Montgomery County who graduated from Good Counsel, was poised to start last season but was given a failing grade after getting a 59 on an exam despite carrying a C grade through much of the course.
Dabbs' absence forced the team to move attackman Andy Warner to midfield for his senior season — a consequence that Dabbs absorbed personally.
"That was pretty hard," he said. "I felt worse for the guys on the team than myself. Knowing that I would have been a starter, we had to bump Andy Warner from attack to midfield because I couldn't play. That's what made me feel pretty bad."
After sitting down with his academic adviser to craft a plan, Dabbs raised his grades to regain his eligibility. But with an offseason coaching change from Richie Meade to Rick Sowell, Dabbs had to prove himself again.
"We immediately saw the type of player he could be," Sowell said. "So it's no surprise that he's running on our first midfield. I still feel that there's room for development. We think his future is bright in that sense. He's almost like a freshman. He hadn't played in his first couple of years. So this is all new to him, and he's gaining more and more experience with every game. We feel as though he's capable of doing more, and we think it's just a matter of time before he produces even more for us."
Unlike Dabbs, Snider — a Seattle native — struggled to find his footing in an unfamiliar setting. Unaccustomed to the East Coast lifestyle and still getting used to his new teammates, Snider's confidence dipped, leading to a fateful meeting with former defensive coordinator Dave Slafkosky in the fall of 2007.
"Coach Slafkosky and I had a big talk where he said, 'If you don't get your stuff in line, you might not be here next year,' " Snider recalled. "So that kind of got me in line pretty quickly. I told my dad that, and my dad [former Virginia attackman Kris Snider], who is kind of a mentor to me, kind of echoed that as well. Eventually, I kind of came along."
With the blessing of former Maryland head coach Dave Cottle, Snider focused on improving his grades and then concentrated on his skills. He has become so versatile on offense, defense and even faceoffs that Maryland has been able to avoid rushing senior Jake Bernhardt back from a left shoulder injury.
"Him stepping up has filled a lot of different roles for us," Terps coach John Tillman said of Snider. "He's playing the middle spot in the 3-3 [offensive set], and a year ago, he was on the lefty side at times. He's been a shut off at times this year. So that says a lot about his development."
Both Dabbs and Snider will be expected to contribute to their teams' fortunes. And because of that, Dabbs and Snider agreed that now is no time to be complacent.
"It's always a work in progress in my eyes," Snider said. "I don't really see it as I'm starting and I should be comfortable where I'm at. I look at it as an opportunity to try new things and improve and look at the game differently."