It became a common sight on the Byrd Stadium sidelines this spring. Maryland men's lacrosse long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt would stand next to volunteer assistant coach Brian Farrell during pregame warm-ups and at halftime, seeking brief feedback, instruction or maybe even a quick laugh.
"Brian was someone I could talk to about what was going on," said Bernhardt, who graduated in May. "He really helped me out just by recognizing the game and giving me little tips. He's a guy I could look to in any situation."
But Farrell figured the routine discussions helped Bernhardt, a second-team All-American, simply kill time before returning to the field.
"I'd give him my two cents and all," Farrell joked, "but come on, Jesse is such a good player and so smart that he didn't need my help."
Whatever the purpose of their conversations, Bernhardt and Farrell seemed to enjoy each one.
The bond between the two Terps formed during Bernhardt's freshman season in 2010, when he played behind Farrell, then a redshirt junior All-American long-stick midfielder. When Farrell joined Maryland's coaching staff this past summer, it signaled the return of Bernhardt's mentor.
Just months after collaborating to stymie NCAA offenses, the pair will be pitted against each other as players Thursday night when Farrell's Boston Cannons (5-5) visit Bernhardt's Bayhawks (6-4) in a rare Major League Lacrosse midweek contest.
The game itself is significant as Chesapeake and Boston sit in third and fourth place, respectively, in the standings with four games remaining. Not only are the teams aiming to strengthen their grip on a spot in the four-team postseason, but they're also jockeying to improve seeding and avoid a first-round matchup with the undefeated Denver Outlaws.
But for Farrell, there's a bit of added motivation. Though he won't be matched up head to head with Bernhardt, he still doesn't want to let his mentee outplay him.
"Jesse is one of my very good friends," Farrell said. "The competitiveness with your friends is always a little higher."
Farrell and Bernhardt still talk regularly, despite playing on teams battling for playoff positioning. Terps coach John Tillman said the long-stick midfielders took a team-oriented approach to the game, helping their friendship form seamlessly in College Park even though they competed for playing time.
"I think with Brian, he's just so approachable and so knowledgeable about the game and then with Jesse, he was always trying to improve on his performance," Tillman said. "So Brian was a natural mentor to Jesse."
Their college careers followed a similar arc, too. Farrell got off to a promising start during his first two years, but in his redshirt junior and senior seasons, his performance reached a new level. He served as team captain and earned All-America honors both those years, and led the Terps to a title game appearance his senior season.
Bernhardt, playing behind Farrell, also performed well as a key reserve during his first two seasons at Maryland. But like his predecessor, he was a two-time second-team All-American and team captain during his final two seasons.
"Maryland has a great tradition of long-stick midfielders and those two guys really kept the legacy going and expanded it," Tillman said. "They did so much for our program."
Through his first two professional seasons, Farrell has already left an imprint on the MLL. He played in both playoff games to help the Cannons capture the championship during his rookie year in 2011, and last season he was named to his first MLL All-Star Game.
Bernhardt, of course, hopes to mirror that success early in his own career. But just like their meetings at Byrd Stadium, Farrell doesn't think his friend needs too much advice.
"Jesse will adjust to the pro game just fine," Farrell said. "The only thing I really talked to him about was traveling and stuff. On the field, he's got it figured out."
Bernhardt is still gaining his footing in the league after the Bayhawks selected him with the fourth overall pick in this year's draft. He has played in five games and has gathered 15 ground balls for the league's second-ranked defense.
Still, Bernhardt said he hasn't played as well as he would like and he looks forward to improving in the second half of the season. And if he decides he needs some guidance, he knows an all-star long-stick midfielder who's always happy to help him.
Anytime except for Thursday night, that is.
"Brian and I still talk a lot. It was great having him as a teammate and then as a coach, so obviously we're close," Bernhardt said. "It'll be fun to compete against him for once."
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