Navy men’s lacrosse routed Queens University in the second game of the season, giving coach Joe Amplo an opportunity to get everyone into the game. Midway through the fourth quarter, senior midfielder Jack Dennehy took a feed from attackman Carter Ash and fired in his first career goal.
Navy’s bench erupted with players celebrating and cheering more wildly than for any goal of the game. Fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium had to be wondering why all the excitement about a garbage time goal during an easy 19-5 win.
There was a significant reason why the Midshipmen reacted the way they did. They all knew the personal trials and tribulations Dennehy has been through. Symbolically, that goal was a triumph for the Georgia native, who has overcome multiple injuries and the death of both parents.
“What was really special for me was seeing the reaction and realizing how much my teammates truly care about me. It really meant a lot,” Dennehy said of the moment. “Personally, I didn’t even care if I ever scored a goal in a game. I’ve just embraced my role, which happens to be leading the scout team. As a senior, I’ve grown to love it.”
Dennehy was a top recruit after being a two-time Under Armour Underclass All-American at Harrison High in Kennesaw, Georgia. He attended the Naval Academy Prep School and was performing well on the field when his mother died.
Donna Dennehy battled pancreatic cancer for several years before passing Dec. 20, 2018, at the age of 55. Jack Dennehy’s world was rocked even though he had been prepared for the inevitable.
Dennehy also suffered the first of two health setbacks while at prep school, undergoing season-ending wrist surgery during the spring.
Things got worse upon arrival in Annapolis. Still despondent about the death of his mother, Dennehy was unable to focus on the academic and military requirements of the academy. He got into trouble and was placed on restriction.
Meanwhile, a hip injury required surgery and prevented Dennehy from playing lacrosse as a plebe. He seriously considered transferring to a civilian school.
“For a while, after losing his mom and dealing with the injuries, Denny wanted to leave the academy. Denny’s dad is the one who talked him into staying,” senior midfielder and close friend Sam Dracobly said.
Robert Dennehy was a 1986 graduate of the Naval Academy and flatly told his son: “Trust me, you will regret leaving for the rest of your life.”
Jack did stay and had things headed in the right direction when tragedy struck again. Robert Dennehy died Dec. 22, 2021, exactly three years and two days after losing his wife.
Jack traveled directly from Annapolis to his grandmother’s house on the Jersey shore for Christmas break and was waiting for his father to drive up with his twin sisters. No one in the family was able to reach Robert the day he was due to depart and a welfare check performed by the local fire department revealed the worst.
Robert died from internal bleeding caused by cirrhosis of the liver at age 59.
“I didn’t know this growing up, but my dad had struggles with alcohol throughout his life. After my mom passed, he was really lonely and depressed and started drinking a lot,” Jack said. “Basically, my mother’s death really killed him.”
Robert was a mechanical engineer who sold industrial air conditioning equipment. He was a proud Naval Academy graduate and always stopped in Annapolis to visit the yard whenever the family made trips to the Philadelphia area to visit relatives.
“Ever since I was a little kid it was my dream to come to the academy, so it meant a lot when I got the opportunity to play lacrosse here,” Jack said. “My dad was always a big role model for me, so when he died so suddenly, it was very tough to take.”
Strong support system
Everyone involved with the Navy men’s lacrosse program immediately rallied around Dennehy. Coach Amplo brought the entire coaching and support staff to Georgia for the funeral. A large number of players, all of whom were home on holiday break, also made the trek.
“The first thing we had to do was show up. My lifelong philosophy is that it’s OK to miss a wedding now and then, but you never miss a funeral,” Amplo said. “What was most heartwarming to me was that so many of our players took time away from their own families to be there.
“Navy lacrosse had a strong presence and we were able to wrap our arms around Jack in a physical way.”
Other mourners took time to tell Dennehy how amazed they were by the tremendous turnout of the Navy lacrosse program. It was a testament that the Navy lacrosse brotherhood is real, he responded.
“I’ll be forever grateful to all my teammates for what they’ve done for me. I can’t even put into words how amazing it was to see how many guys showed up at my dad’s funeral,” he said. “At the end of the day, when I put my head on the pillow, knowing that all those guys have my back and would do anything for me means so much. I realized my parents’ death could not give me an excuse to slack off and be anything less than I should be.”
Nonetheless, Dennehy was unable to avoid another downward spiral as he battled depression and anxiety. He admits that academics and military responsibilities “were not my priority.”
“I would say I was in a pretty dark place for quite some time. I was having a tough time handling myself, much less all the other aspects of the academy,” Dennehy said. “I don’t know if I would have ever gotten out of that hole if I didn’t have my teammates providing so much support. Everywhere I turned here I had someone to lean on.”
As it turns out, time was the ultimate healer. Dennehy said he began to turn the corner at the beginning of the current academic year in September. Avoiding parties and staying out of the bars starting during the 2022 spring semester was a big part of the process, he said.
“I stepped away from the social scene for a little while to figure out myself and take time to process everything that happened. Once I finally took time to myself I was able to regroup and turn the page,” he said. “After my dad died from drinking, that’s just not anything I participate in anymore.”
Man of the house
Amplo saw a student-athlete maturing into a man who was looking ahead to his future as an officer. He believes Dennehy wanted to set a positive example and be a good role model for his younger sisters. Twins Caroline and Annie are 20 years old and attend Kennesaw State and University of Georgia, respectively.
“My impression is that Jack sees himself as the leader of his family and he’s acting like it. He has accepted that role and responsibility,” Amplo said. “I think the way Jack has lived his life since the tragedy of losing both parents has been impressive. He’s had to grow up a lot quicker than most guys his age.”
Dennehy discovered a hobby that occupies much of his free time and serves as somewhat of an escape. While on restriction as a plebe, he began putting together mixtapes that turned out to be really good. He has put together the Navy men’s lacrosse warmup music the past few seasons and is now known to teammates as “Denny beats.”
As a junior, Dennehy was asked to serve as disc jockey for the party held after the Class of 2022 received its service assignments.
“On Friday and Saturday nights, Jack is in his dorm room making music. I think it’s been his getaway,” Amplo said. “He’s become a brigade-wise phenomenon because he does such a good job with mixing music.”
Dracobly believes mixing music has been a way for Dennehy to connect with his mother, who hosted radio shows in Philadelphia and Atlanta. Donna Dennehy was named Billboard music Director of the Year in 1998.
“I love music and really enjoy the production side,” said Dennehy, who has spent about $2,500 on software for his hobby and recorded a song dedicated to his parents. “I know a lot of my teammates really like the stuff I put together.”
Meanwhile, Dennehy continues to lead the younger players as a senior who gives maximum effort on the scout team. Dracobly said the hip injury derailed what was a promising career, saying Dennehy was far and away the best lacrosse player at the prep school.
“Nobody loves and cares about Navy lacrosse as much as Denny,” Dracobly said. “The effort, energy and enthusiasm he brings every day is an inspiration to everyone.”
Dennehy will graduate in May with a degree in quantitative economics and will become a surface warfare officer serving aboard the USS Gabrielle Giffords, a littoral combat ship based out of San Diego.