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John Railey healthy for first time in almost three years for Loyola Maryland men’s lacrosse

Loyola University Maryland junior defenseman John Railey made the first start of his career against the U.S. Naval Academy on Saturday, March 16, in the Greyhounds's 18-5 win at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore.
Loyola University Maryland junior defenseman John Railey made the first start of his career against the U.S. Naval Academy on Saturday, March 16, in the Greyhounds's 18-5 win at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore. (Larry French / Loyola Maryland Athletics)

John Railey made his first career start March 16 for the Loyola Maryland men’s lacrosse team, filling in for injured close defenseman Alex Johnson. Until that game against Navy, however, the junior was not entirely sure that he would get the chance to replace Johnson, who has been dealing with an arm injury.

“It was never really said,” he said Tuesday with a chuckle. “I never really heard those words. I was fourth on the depth chart. We went through practice, and we don’t really use the terms starter or backup, and I was with the other two guys, [senior] Paul Volante and [freshman] Cam Wyers, that had been starting all year. I was nervous the whole week that maybe they were going to go with someone else until Saturday when I was put out there. So I didn’t know for sure, but I had a pretty decent idea.”

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Railey made the start in the 18-5 romp over the Midshipmen and a 12-7 victory at Bucknell on Saturday for the No. 6 Greyhounds (6-2, 3-0 Patriot League) and is expected to line up there in Saturday’s home game against Colgate (3-5, 1-2) at 1 p.m. at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore.

Ever since Towson became the No. 1 team in college lacrosse during the first week of March, the Tigers have struggled. And their fortunes didn’t change Saturday.

Railey’s availability would not usually be noteworthy except that the Chevy Chase resident has had to overcome three knee operations that kept him on the sideline for the first two years of his college career. His presence this spring has been crucial for a Loyola defense that graduated two starting defensemen and two starting short-stick defensive midfielders.

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“He’s a vital part of every Saturday’s game plan for us,” coach Charley Toomey said. “We’re watching him grow up in front of our eyes day-to-day and watching him gain a little bit more confidence with each practice. … He’s in his junior year now, but he’s really getting his first minutes and having his first full season.”

Railey began playing lacrosse as a third grader, but his first love in sports was basketball — a passion handed down by his father, Jack, a former forward at James Madison. In fact, Railey dreamt of playing for Georgetown before his brother Will committed to play goalkeeper for Virginia when the younger Railey was an eighth grader.

After agreeing as a sophomore at Georgetown Prep to play for the Greyhounds, Railey injured his right knee in the Little Hoyas’ win in an Interstate Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal in May 2016. In the team’s next game in the semifinals, he injured his left knee, crumpled to the turf, and did not get back up.

Railey was diagnosed with a torn ACL in his left knee and a torn meniscus and cartilage damage in his right. He underwent surgery on his right knee in June and then his left knee in August.

Ryan Wade has continued a family legacy by playing lacrosse at Navy. The senior midfielder is on the verge of a major career milestone, needing five points to reach the century mark.

Railey was disappointed about sitting out his freshman year at Loyola, but he had a recovery partner in then-junior defenseman Foster Huggins, who had endured three ACL operations in five years.

“He gave me the rundown,” he said of Huggins, who eventually became a first-team All American as a senior. “He said, ‘Listen, this is my third, and I know it’s a long track and a month out of surgery, you’re going to get lost along the road. But you’ve got to keep your head up. No one’s going to feel too sorry for you, and it’s going to be on you to stay the course and make sure that you’re doing all the small stuff right.’ So having a guy that was two years my senior help me and guide me along the way for essentially that entire fall, matching rehab step-for-step with him was an incredible help.”

Railey was dealt a setback when he learned in September 2017 that he had suffered a partial tear of the left ACL, but was relieved to learn that surgery was not required. However, after taking part in preseason scrimmages, he experienced pain again in his knee.

Railey was held out of the Greyhounds’ 2018 season opener at Virginia. At halftime of the team’s next game against Johns Hopkins, his doctor called him and broke the bad news that he had torn the ACL again and would need another operation.

“I was sitting there, and we were essentially nearing two years out from the initial tear, and I really thought it was going to be my time and I was going to have a positive spring,” he recalled. “Then it just all came crashing down, and it was tough. The blow was softened a little bit because we beat Hopkins that day, but I definitely broke into tears when I told my parents at the tailgate after the game that it was time for me to go back under.”

Senior attacker Shannon Williams has already set six records for the Ducks, including becoming the program’s all-time leader in goals and points.

Emotional displays from Railey were rare during his recovery, according to junior long-stick midfielder Ryan McNulty.

“He and I would have conversations about it, but he really wouldn’t let anybody else see it,” said McNulty, who missed the final 14 games of the 2017 season because of a broken foot. “I took that as a true sense of great character when you get hurt so many times with the same injury. He was just so humble through it all, and it would help me get out there on those tough Mondays when it was raining or cold outside, and I would just kind of look over at him when he was rehabbing. He was humble and putting his head down and getting to work.”

Railey said he never considered walking away from lacrosse, and Toomey is grateful for Railey’s determination in light of the injuries to Johnson and sophomore defenseman Matt Hughes (season-ending torn meniscus).

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“It’s very rare that a guy comes back and is thrust into the mix that quickly,” Toomey said. “In a perfect world, if Matt Hughes was playing, John might be helping us more in the long-pole position and helping us on man-down. But with some injuries to some guys, John Railey is out there on the field and really impressing the coaches with what he’s doing day in and day out.”

Railey, who leads the team in pregame prayers when Rev. Timothy Brown, S.J., is unavailable, said he feels blessed to be back on the field — even if it did take almost three years.

“It means everything, and hopefully, it’s a reward for all the work I’ve put in and all the people that have helped me,” he said. “It really took an army to get me back, and it was by no means just myself. I hope it’s a little bit of reward for all of the good work that others have put into me to get back here.”

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