Robert Kuhn’s first fall as a member of the Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse program could best be described as tumultuous.
In four years at Moorestown High School and one at The Hun School, Kuhn was an offensive midfielder, earning first-team All-New Jersey status twice. But when he joined the Blue Jays in the fall of 2015, his short stick was replaced by a long pole, and he moved to long-stick midfielder.
“I will say that fall was really interesting,” Kuhn recalled Wednesday. “I walked on campus for the first day of practice as an O-mid, the second day I was a D-mid, the third, fourth, and fifth day I was a pole, then I was back to D-middie, and then sometime in late November, I made the switch back to pole, and I’ve been a pole since.
“But it was fun. I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t change it for anything. It was an interesting experience. I learned a lot about myself, and I’ve honestly had a blast.”
As thrilling as it has been for Kuhn, his willingness to accept a move from offense to defense has been a blessing for No. 7 Johns Hopkins, which will visit area rival Towson at Johnny Unitas Stadium on Saturday at noon in the season opener for both sides.
Kuhn has been the team’s top option with the long pole since his arrival, playing in 46 of 47 games in the past three seasons. Over that span, he has 79 ground balls, 23 caused turnovers, nine goals and six assists.
Kuhn finished last spring with career highs in ground balls (27) and caused turnovers (nine) and added two goals and one assist. His selection to the Big Ten’s All-Tournament team punctuated his most effective season to date, according to coach Dave Pietramala.
“What’s changed though from the first two years is grasping things conceptually,” he said of Kuhn’s development. “It was kind of figuring out the defense, getting comfortable with the amount of communication that we expect defensively, it was making decisions. It was all of the conceptual stuff that was a bit more challenging for him. Last year was the year when we saw a huge difference.
“When you watched him on film the first year or two, you would say, ‘He missed that slide,’ or ‘He didn’t get this, too,’ or ‘He was late to that rotation.’ But last year, you were like, ‘Wow, he got it.’ This year, he’s played very comfortably. He’s just looked more comfortable on defense in the last year-and-a-half.”
Kuhn, 22, said the position switch was not a complete shock because his coach at The Hun School, M.V. Whitlow, planted the seed before he left for college. But adjusting to a 6-foot-long stick took some time.
“It was definitely weird,” he said. “A lot of the things that were easy with the short stick were just awkward with the pole. You had three more feet, and with a lot of the scrummy ground balls that you’re trying to get, you had to move around this big stick. But Coach Pietramala and [associate head] coach [Bill] Dwan harp the fundamentals better than any other coach in the country. So if they can do it to me, they can get anybody to play with the pole. Besides from a few basic things they ingrained into my head, it wasn’t too bad.”
Kuhn has adjusted to another change this season. After wearing No. 10 in his first three seasons, Kuhn is wearing No. 19, the jersey number assigned to freshman defenseman Jeremy Huber before he died Jan. 26, 2015, of complications caused by pneumonia and flu.
The No. 19 had been off-limits as the program honored Huber’s memory. Before the team’s banquet during alumni weekend in October, Pietramala reached out to Bob and Nancy Huber to seek their permission to allow a player to wear the jersey.
“He was looking for some way to keep Jeremy’s spirit a part of the Blue Jays after the Class of 2018 graduated,” the Hubers wrote via email. “We were surprised and totally moved that he and the team wanted to do this in honor of Jeremy.”
With the Hubers’ support, Pietramala asked the seniors of the 2018 squad to recommend a player to wear No. 19. A couple candidates were mentioned, but after Kuhn’s name was nominated, the vote was almost unanimous.
“The biggest thing we took in was character, the way someone played on the field in terms of work ethic, being there for his teammates and off the field, as well like looking to help others, because that’s truly what Jeremy was all about,” said former short-stick defensive midfielder Christopher Hubler, who lived in a suite with Huber. “And truthfully, it was not a hard decision. Everyone agreed that Rob embodied the characteristics that we were looking for, and we were all in agreement.”
Hubler delivered the news to Kuhn shortly after Christmas.
“It means the world to me,” Kuhn said of wearing Huber’s number. “It’s amazing what that group went through. Watching that 2018 class grow as a whole while always keeping Jeremy as a focal point with everything they did, it was one of the coolest and most special things that I’ve personally seen in sports. So it means everything to me. I hope to wear it proudly, and I hope to represent him well.”
The Hubers said they heartily approved of the decision to award the jersey to Kuhn.
“It will be bittersweet and a little sad to see a No. 19 on the field as a Blue Jay this season,” they said. “But at the same time, it will bring joy to see No. 19 on the field, exactly where Jeremy would have been the happiest.”
All that is left for Kuhn in his senior year is to help the Blue Jays capture their first NCAA championship since 2007. Not that he would turn down a chance to make his debut as an All-American, but his top priority is helping the team, as he did more than three years ago by agreeing to become a long-stick midfielder.
“When it comes to accolades and stuff like that, that’s just never been my style,” he said. “I love to win, and I love it when our team wins, and I love it when our team clicks and we get a good win. Honestly, I think the sky is the limit for our team. I think all of the pieces are there.”