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Mike Preston: Nick Grill reaches new heights as top defender for Terps | COMMENTARY

Michigan's Kevin Mack (2) chases after the ball while Maryland defender Nick Grill (54) tries to stop him in the 2nd quarter. The University of Maryland Terrapins host the Michigan Men's Lacrosse team in College Park on Saturday, February 20, 2021.
Michigan's Kevin Mack (2) chases after the ball while Maryland defender Nick Grill (54) tries to stop him in the 2nd quarter. The University of Maryland Terrapins host the Michigan Men's Lacrosse team in College Park on Saturday, February 20, 2021. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Sun)

Maryland defenseman Nick Grill does not hold any ill will toward those schools that didn’t recruit him because he wasn’t the prototype coming out of high school, but he has used the slight for motivation.

Grill, a senior, was recently named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year after winning the league’s Defensive Player of the Week for an unprecedented three straight times during the regular season. The Whipsnakes Lacrosse Club selected Grill in the Premier Lacrosse League draft a week earlier.

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That’s not too shabby for a kid who was considered too short and too small to play Division I lacrosse coming out of Bridgewater-Raritan High, in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

“I think any size will work,” said the 5-foot-8, 185-pound Grill. “I have been hearing about this prototypical size ever since I got to high school. I understand the perks of the height and weight, but I understand I have my own advantages. People can say what they want, but it’s all bulletin-board material for me. I pride myself in proving people wrong. I understand that I might have only a few selective people in my corner to help and support me, but that’s all I need.”

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Just about all sports have their prototypes and standards. If you want to find the perfect body for a defenseman, go watch some old film of former Johns Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala. Not only was he the nastiest guy on the field when he was a player for the Blue Jays, but Pietramala was about 6-feet-4 and a lean 215 pounds. He had extremely long arms and strides that made him nearly impossible to run away from.

While Grill isn’t as dominant physically, he can control a game mentally while still winning one-on-one matchups with attackmen like Rutgers’ Connor Kirst or Penn State’s Mac O’Keefe.

“I think he is a good combination,” said Maryland defensive coordinator Jesse Bernhardt. “He’s played a lot, and from a cerebral sense, he does a good job of communication. On top of that, he has good enough foot speed to cover the quick guys. Obviously, he isn’t the tallest guy in the world, but well-rounded and strong enough to cover Kirst, who is a big, downhill dodger, or O’Keefe, who is primarily good off the ball.

“Nick can do anything we need,” Bernhardt said.

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Grill leads the Big Ten in turnovers, causing 1.2 per game, has corralled 30 ground balls and been a major reason why Maryland allows only 9.8 goals a game. But his biggest asset is that he quarterbacks the defense. Compared to other Division I powers, Maryland is small on defense, but the Terps seldom are out of position.

That’s because Grill wants to become a coach, and that’s how he sees the game. He’ll watch 30 minutes of video on the Terps or an upcoming opponent, and then two more hours through the week by himself.

When you speak with Grill, there are files of information stored away.

“If you asked our guys, most of them would pick him,” said Bernhardt of his top defensive leader. “He has a great demeanor and is easily approachable, but on the field can be demanding. Some guys have it, some don’t and won’t get it. He can kind of talk guys through what is going on on the field and still do his job, which shows the amount of time he puts in as far as preparing and knowing what is going on on the field.”

It’s also part of Grill gaining an edge. When coming out of high school, the only Division I program to recruit him was Marquette, which was in the early stages of starting a program. Grill’s impact was felt immediately as he started all 44 games with the Golden Eagles. But he decided to put his name in the transfer portal once Joe Amplo decided to leave Marquette to become the head coach at Navy in 2019.

Grill loved his time at Marquette and he took the lessons he learned with him to Maryland. The chip on his shoulder was still there, and still remains.

“At Marquette, we were the guys who weren’t recruited very heavily but we learned to love the school and the process of playing together, playing against the top teams in the country,” Grill said. “We didn’t have elite success. We lost more than we won, but we made hard work, determination and belief in self our brand. If you have that, it will lead to success.”

Despite a 20-24 record in three years Marquette, Grill’s body of work was evident. Other major Division I teams tried to recruit him, but Maryland was his top choice. Bernhardt said the height wasn’t an issue because Grill had already proven himself.

The Terps were fortunate enough to get Grill back for another year because of the COVID-shortened season in 2020.

“He is much more comfortable,” Bernhardt said. “He plays with chip on his shoulder because he was overlooked and appreciates the fact that he was given an opportunity to play at a school like Maryland to showcase his ability.”

Grill says he was motivated by his older brother B.J. Grill, who also played at Marquette. Like Nick, B.J. was short. Like B.J., Nick played defense. B.J. was good, too, being selected to several Big Ten teams and named as a third-team Al-American.

“In the program, they say he was 5-7 but he is more like 5-4, and he’d be lucky to weigh 160 pounds soaking wet,” said Nick, laughing. “But on and off the field, he set a great example and embodies what it is to be tough, prove people wrong and have paved the way for small defensemen.”

And apparently, Nick learned the lesson, which is why he is one of the best in the country.

Big Ten final

NO. 1 MARYLAND VS. JOHNS HOPKINS

Saturday, 8 p.m.

TV: BTN

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