COLLEGE PARK -- Everyone learned early not to pick on mild-mannered Dan Radebaugh.
When he was 6 years old, he played on a hockey team with his 7-year-old brother, Sean. After one poor performance by Dan, Sean blamed his brother for losing the game.
As Sean nagged and yelled, Dan's calm disappeared. Dan toppled Sean to the ground and hammered him with several punches.
From then on, everyone perceived quiet Dan a little differently.
"Dan came of age right then," said Dan's father, Steve Radebaugh. "From that point, Sean never messed with Dan. It was a side of Dan nobody had ever seen before."
That hostile side has made Maryland defenseman Dan Radebaugh a two-time first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference lacrosse selection and a first-team All-America candidate. Radebaugh makes his first NCAA Final Four appearance when the Terps face Johns Hopkins on Saturday.
The Radebaugh family is synonymous with lacrosse. In addition to Sean, who is finishing his senior season at Salisbury in Sunday's Division III championship game, there is younger brother Tucker Radebaugh, a St. Paul's senior who has signed with Virginia. J. D. Radebaugh, one of their cousins, is a Boys' Latin senior who has signed with Maryland, and another cousin, Derek Radebaugh, finished his career at Loyola College last year. Two other cousins, Patrick and Jesse, play at Boys' Latin and Calvert Hall, respectively.
Most of the Radebaughs play attack or midfield, and most are under 6 feet. Dan, however, is 6-2, 215 pounds, and he is known as one of the best defensemen and hardest hitters in the nation. Fighting for a loose ball, Radebaugh leveled four Notre Dame players in one sequence last week.
"In street clothes, he looks like a youngster who would be the least aggressive player," Maryland coach Dick Edell said. "He always has a smile on his face and is the most popular guy on the team. But out there in the wars we have every Saturday, you want him to be on your side."
Radebaugh wedges attackmen to the ground with his stick. He tosses potential scorers out of the crease with authority. He becomes a wall against the game's best dodgers.
Radebaugh, who excels in stopping the opponent's top offensive threat, said there is an amount of craziness and cheating involved in close defense. And he wants the player he's assigned to defend to be reminded of Radebaugh the next day, when the bumps and bruises throb.
"It's not me stopping them. It's that they've got to try and beat me," said Radebaugh, a senior and three-year starter. "My aggressiveness makes a lot of people afraid of me. If you're going against me, you're going to feel me there the entire game."
Besides his one-on-one defensive abilities, Radebaugh accepts several other jobs that don't get recognized but give him the chance to push opponents around the field.
He's the last line and core of the Terps' man-down unit. He continually scraps for ground balls as a wing on faceoffs.
Radebaugh also coordinates most of Maryland's clearing plays.
"He's such a great end-to-end type player," Edell said. "I like the ball in his long stick more than I would in a short stick. He makes better clearing decisions than anyone else on the playing field."
Actually, Radebaugh's best decision was listening to Edell nine years ago.
Growing up, Radebaugh played attack like his brothers and cousins, but, he said, "I wasn't really too good at it."
During the summer before eighth grade, Radebaugh attended Edell's lacrosse camp and received some advice: Switch to defense.
By the end of the camp, he was named his team's best defenseman. But he has had to make several adjustments since then.
Although he had the skills, height and aggressiveness as a freshman, Radebaugh needed to become stronger. Developing for three seasons beside veteran defensemen Danny Robbins and Steve Hayes, Radebaugh had enough time to mature and grow.
When Robbins and Hayes departed last year, Radebaugh was the sole experienced defender.
Radebaugh instantly became more vocal on the field and seized the leadership of the defense. He has nurtured junior Paal Elfstrum and sophomore Dave LaChapelle through words and example, and the Terps now have one of the toughest and most hard-nosed defensive units in the country.
"I don't believe there is a better complete package," Edell said. "I've seen other good defensemen, but I know what Danny means to our team. With all that he does, is willing to do and has done, it will be very, very difficult to replace him."