In addition to bringing together the finest high school seniors in the country, the Under Armour All-America Lacrosse Classic gives players a unique chance to reflect on the past and look ahead to their promising futures.
For the three players selected from Boys' Latin — Colin Heacock, Mac Pons and Ben Pridemore — Saturday's game is a special go-between from a memorable high school season that ended just short of their ultimate goal to the lofty expectations awaiting them in their college careers.
The Lakers won 19 straight games to start the 2013 season, holding the No. 1 ranking in the country in the Nike/US Lacrosse Top 25 poll before losing in stunning fashion to Loyola, 10-9, in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game in May.
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Heacock and Pons will be teammates at Maryland next year, while Pridemore will play at Notre Dame. The three players, who will return to the location of the title game loss for Saturday's 8 p.m. game at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium, now look back and understand the special journey to the title game far outweighed the difficult result.
"Really, I wouldn't have traded it for anything," said Heacock, an All-Metro first-team attackman. "If I could have gone to Loyola and won the championship rather than be at Boys' Latin with all my friends, I would have still gone to BL and lost with my friends. I just grew so close with all those guys. They're all my brothers now."
That's what makes the All-America game more special.
It's one last time for Pridemore, an All-Metro second team midfielder, to look up the field and find Heacock. Pons, a repeat All-Metro first-team pick, will not play in the game due to an ankle injury, but he'll be on the South team's sideline supporting his Lakers teammates.
"Playing with Colin the past few years has been awesome," Pridemore said. "We definitely got some chemistry going, so hopefully we can put that to good use in this game. It's kind of our last hurrah together, the last time we get to share the field together. It's definitely going to be a great experience, and I can't wait to play."
Heacock and Pons both received text messages and phone calls from Maryland coach John Tillman following the championship game loss.
"He said he couldn't say anything that would make me feel any better [about the loss], but now you want to get that championship at Maryland that much more, so use it as motivation for the future," Heacock said. "Winning a national championship would be one of the biggest moments in my life. Mac and I always talk about that."
Playing different positions, the three players bring their own unique strengths to the lacrosse field.
Heacock, who scored 101 goals in his three years at Boys' Latin, is fast, strong and a determined finisher with a left-handed shot. Pridemore, who led the Lakers' deep midfield in scoring the past two years, is skilled, smart and makes quick decisions. Pons, a rare four-year starter with an uncanny feel for the game, consistently played well defensively in front of the goal.
"If you look at all three of them, each are all athletically gifted in their own way," Boys' Latin coach Bob Shriver said. "So the common denominator is their athletic ability. And another thing they share is they all play well and they all play hard. In the MIAA, you can get exposed pretty quickly if you don't work your tail off. So you've always got to be on your toes, and those three always were."
The past season proved to be a valuable tool for future success.
"Our slogan the whole year was, 'We Ball,' and not 'Me Ball,' and when you're playing as a team and everybody is doing their part, it can all come together," Pridemore said. "We showed that this season and clicked on all cylinders, except for that last game. I learned that it's not about you. We played as a team, and it was a rewarding experience."
Pons, who had ankle surgery shortly after the season and won't be ready to play again until the fall, is disappointed he can't play in the prestigious All-America game, but he will make the best of the situation on the sideline.
"It's just a great honor to get selected as one of the top players in the country," he said. "And I think it's pretty cool that two of my best friends also got picked, so I can enjoy watching them play."
After committing to Maryland as a sophomore, Pons did his best to pitch the program to Heacock. From time to time, he would find Heacock in the hallway during school and simply say: "Maryland wants you!"
Said Heacock: "We always joked around when we were younger that we would go to the same school, but never thought it would actually happen. Our relationship on and off the field is awesome. If we're not on the lacrosse field, then we're just hanging out together — he's like a brother to me. We're just really excited and can't wait to get down there."
Heacock and Pons — two of six Maryland recruits picked for Saturday's game — were at a swimming pool recently, talking about another chance to win a championship. Or maybe more.