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Lacrosse a big hit for Doyle family of Towson

In a city steeped in the lore of the game, the Doyles are greenhorns, a first-generation lacrosse family. But the Towson brood is catching up fast.

Four Doyle siblings have earned college lacrosse scholarships, and two — Jack and Conor — were named All-Metro Player of the Year at Gilman. Both now play for No. 9 Notre Dame (6-4), which hosts No. 6 Maryland (9-2) on Saturday.

Egging them on in the stands will be their sister Caroline, a star at Notre Dame Prep who'll join her brothers in South Bend, Ind., next year; brother Casey, a seventh-grader at Gilman who also plays lacrosse; and parents Kevin and Grace Doyle, neither one of whom acknowledged the game until their kids did.

"To us, lacrosse was always just another sport," Grace Doyle said. "We didn't realize it was a big deal until we moved to Baltimore."

Their oldest child, Kevin Jr., got his first weathered stick from a neighbor who was cleaning out his garage. Now the Doyles' own garage is cluttered with close to 100 old shafts and heads.

"I've tried to get rid of them, but the kids keep taking the stuff out of the Goodwill basket," Grace Doyle said. "I guess each stick has a story."

Likewise the cracks and dents in the vinyl siding of their home on Meadowlark Drive — the price of endless pickup games played on their half-acre lot.

"We had to put all new siding out back," Kevin Doyle said. "The kids hit the gutters so often that [the gutters] fell down and water leaked into the house. And they'd break so many windows each year that I'd wait to repair them until lacrosse season was over."

In the side yard stands a huge nylon net, 60 feet by 20 feet, protecting a neighbor's house from errant shots.

"My husband says there are people who think we're crazy but, gosh, lacrosse has been a blessing for us," said Grace Doyle, who played soccer at William & Mary, where her husband ran track. "It has allowed our kids to develop great friendships and to get into better schools than they would have on their own."

Kevin Jr., a 2011 graduate of the Naval Academy, played midfield there and is now a lieutenant junior grade stationed in San Diego. He's expected to follow Saturday's game through text messages with his folks.

His dad has missed just one Notre Dame game this spring, the first year that sons Conor and Jack have played on the same team since leading Gilman to a 15-1 finish and a No. 1 national ranking in 2009.

A junior attackman, Conor is a three-year starter for the Irish and second on the team in goals (17) and points (25).

"Conor makes huge contributions offensively and has as good a lacrosse IQ as anyone we have," Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said.

Jack, a midfielder, is a 23-year-old graduate student who has eligibility remaining after an injury-plagued career at Harvard. There, he broke his foot in his first week on campus, suffered two hip labral tears as a sophomore and then fractured his back. Jack earned a degree in government last winter and, in January, enrolled at Notre Dame, in part to play with his younger brother in pursuit of a national championship.

"We did it in high school. How cool would it be to do it in college as well?" Jack said.

Conor Doyle couldn't be happier to have his older sibling in tow.

"This has been the most enjoyable season of my life," said Conor, who has scored in every game this year. "We really connect on the field. This is Jack's last shot, and the second chance has been great for him. He has a great work ethic. He's always saying, 'Hey, do you want to shoot around after practice, or grab a Coke between classes and watch some game film?'

"It's been neat, taking my big brother around town, showing him the ropes and explaining the culture of our team. We're even taking a course together, 'Modern Political Thought,' though sometimes we have to sit apart in class because we talk to each other too much."

Conor's presence has helped him ease into the new setting, Jack said.

"It's good to know he's watching my back, academically and on the field," he said. "I'd gone over 1,000 days between games, which was a little weird. But it has been fun relearning how to play — and Conor has been there to help me do everything from finding my classes to meeting people socially to breaking down the team's offense."

Their father marvels at that camaraderie.

"As kids, they shared a room and were like 'The Odd Couple,'" Kevin Doyle said. "Take their sock drawer. Jack is a Type A guy who keeps his socks rolled up, while Conor is more laid-back and could care less. But they've always complemented each other on the field, where Jack can fire Conor up when he needs to — and Conor might bring Jack down a bit."

Conor agreed.

"They say opposites attract," he said. "I think Jack and I balance each other out."

At Notre Dame, Jack plays on the third midfield unit and hasn't scored much (one goal, two assists), but that will change as he works out the kinks and masters the system, Corrigan said.

"He hasn't been healthy in three years and he's still learning how we play," the coach said. "We haven't seen the best of what Jack Doyle has."

A breakout game against Maryland would suit Jack. The Terps are coached by John Tillman, who recruited Doyle to Harvard when he was coach there. A year later, however, Tillman left for College Park.

"I've had this date circled on my calendar for some time," Jack said.

He has petitioned the NCAA to play one more year at Notre Dame and hopes to be one of three Doyles suiting up for the Irish next spring.

"Caroline's coming here is exciting," Jack said. "We haven't all been together since elementary school at Immaculate Heart of Mary [in Towson]."

A defensive standout, Caroline learned the game by mixing it up with her brothers, who called her "Chirps" and held nothing back.

"They didn't see her as a girl until high school, and they never cut her any slack," her mom said.

A favorite pastime: games of monkey in the middle where Caroline tried to steal the ball. Her pluck paid off.

"Our brother Kevin says she's the toughest of us all," Conor said.

Caroline can't wait for college.

"I expect Conor and Jack will give me my distance but still be big brothers," she said. "I know there will be pressure [to excel in lacrosse], following them, but I've always gone in their footsteps and have used what I've learned to be the best."

That leaves Casey Doyle, 13. Like the others, he has played other sports — he's a whiz in hockey — but will lacrosse win out?

Last year, his parents found Casey shooting around while wearing Jack's helmet from Harvard.

"It was way too big for Casey — he looked like a bobblehead — but that's what he wanted to wear," Grace Doyle said.

"Then, last night, I had to yell at him for cracking the siding of the house."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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