Ryan Brown uses his right hand to write. And eat. And brush his teeth. And throw a football. And for many other activities.
But when it comes to rocketing a lacrosse ball at speeds reaching triple digits, the Johns Hopkins junior attackman can shoot with his right and left hands.
"The whole field opens up for you," Brown said of being able to shoot from both sides of his 5-foot-10, 190-pound frame. "You're not just limited to saying, 'I can only play one half of the field. I can only go to my right hand.' And that makes it easier for the defense and goalie because they're thinking, 'He can only go right-handed every time.' That's pretty easy to guard."
Brown's ambidexterity has helped him score 36 goals this season, tied for fourth in Division I. His average of 3.6 goals per game ranks third in the country, and he could set a career high if he scores five times in his next three games. Brown's first opportunity will arrive on Saturday when the Blue Jays (4-6 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten Conference) welcome Penn State (3-7, 0-2) to Homewood Field at 6 p.m.
Despite his lofty numbers, Brown doesn't get the acclaim that counterparts like Albany senior Lyle Thompson, Syracuse senior Kevin Rice and North Carolina senior Jimmy Bitter receive. But ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra said no one has a better shooting stroke than Brown.
"His shot is a thing of beauty, and he does it with both hands," said Carcaterra, a former Syracuse midfielder. "You could argue that there might be one or two other attackmen in the nation that shoot as well as Brown does, but it's probably not even close if you combine what he can do with his right hand and his left hand.
"He's almost equally as effective shooting from the outside righty or lefty, and that is unheard of in this day and age where a lot of guys play one side of the field."
Brown's ability is so unique that UMBC coach Don Zimmerman admitted that his coaches had to change their labeling system for the teams' season opener on Feb. 7. Whereas left-handed shooters were listed in red and right-handed shooters were in blue or black, Brown got his very own green label.
Prodded by his father, Bill, Ryan Brown worked on shooting from both sides as a first grader at his family's home in Sykesville.
"I started so young that I got good at both left and right at the same time," he recalled. "So there was the same amount of difficulties shooting left-handed as there were shooting right-handed when I first started. My dad kept saying, 'It's better to learn it now when you're young than have to find out how to use your left hand when you're in eight grade or in high school.'"
Playing on a club team before his sophomore year at Calvert Hall that featured three right-handed attackmen in Spencer Parks (Towson), John Kluh (Villanova) and Greg Pyke (a starting guard for the Georgia football team), Brown readily adopted the left-handed attackman role. With the Cardinals, he played all over the field.
Brown began his career at Johns Hopkins as a midfielder. After his freshman year, Brown knew that Zach Palmer's graduation left a void in the left-handed attackman spot.
"So all during the summer, I worked out and did whatever I had to do to get that left-handed spot," Brown said, estimating that he spent 21/2 hours of a daily three-hour session five times per week working on the left hand. "I really worked on my left-handed shot and not just my shot. I also worked on my left-handed skills of throwing different passes, carrying it more left-handed, dodging to my left hand. I was just really working on my left hand to become more comfortable with it."
Assistant coach and offensive coordinator Bobby Benson said Brown's determination was obvious.
"I remember the fall when we didn't know who the lefty was going to be, and I remember having a conversation with him and looking at him, and he looked back at me pretty confidently that he was going to be the left-handed attackman that year," Benson said. "You could tell that it was something he took great pride in between his freshman and sophomore years. He saw that opportunity and he played an entire year on the left side mostly left-handed because Brandon [Benn] was always on the right side. So that helped him even more."
Coach Dave Pietramala said Brown's versatility allows Benson to be flexible with his offensive game plans.
"It does help a great deal in our motion offense because in our motion offense, guys are moving all over the place, and when you have a guy like Ryan, you're not pigeonholed to his movements or confined to one side of the field," Pietramala said. "Having a player like Ryan who is adept with both hands affords us an opportunity to move him around."
Brown said there are times when he feels he can shoot harder and with more velocity from his left side, but is more accurate from his right side. And Brown is doing what he can to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of players, sharing what his father told him at youth lacrosse camps.
"I tell them how my dad did it," he said. "Learn it while you're young so that when you're a freshman in high school, you don't have to build that because that's going to be uncomfortable for you. … When you're young and just starting, work on your left and right hand equally so that you can become comfortable with both."