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A suspension pushed Towson’s Jon Mazza away from lacrosse. His family, teammates and coaches brought him back.

Towson's Jon Mazza shoots during a game against Duke on March 17, 2018.
Towson's Jon Mazza shoots during a game against Duke on March 17, 2018. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Just seconds after scoring a goal with 1:12 left in the second quarter of Saturday’s 15-7 loss to then-No. 13 Johns Hopkins, Towson men’s lacrosse attackman Jon Mazza turned and began to point and shout toward a section of the stands adjacent to Homewood Field.

It was such a puzzling showing that even his teammates were unsure of Mazza’s intentions.

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“My teammates were making fun of me because they didn’t know what I was doing,” the Davidsonville resident said Tuesday. “I was just recognizing my parents, my sister and my two aunts and two uncles. They’ve seen me in the past couple years have a lot of ups and downs, and they’ve been with me the whole time. So I just wanted to give them a little credit. It was the least I could do.”

Considering it was his first point in 687 days, Mazza’s display of exuberance is easier to understand. The circumstances behind the long layoff between points are murkier.

Mazza’s start on Saturday for the Tigers (0-1) was his first since March 24, 2018, in an 11-10 overtime loss at Denver. After an undisclosed violation of team rules on the return home, coach Shawn Nadelen suspended Mazza and then-senior starting defenseman Sid Ewell and dismissed then-redshirt junior reserve attackman Dylan Kinnear from the team. Although Ewell returned after missing two games, Mazza sat out the final seven games.

Mazza and Nadelen declined to discuss to details of the incident that led to the suspension, but no charges were filed, according to online court records.

“It was a violation of team rules,” Nadelen said. “It was not of a criminal nature, but it was something we addressed internally.”

Nadelen also partially blamed himself, saying, “I was disappointed because it happened under my supervision and the fact that I didn’t have a good enough finger on the pulse to make sure that we stopped those instances from happening.”

Despite the suspension, Mazza met with Nadelen in the summer of 2018 and appeared to be on track to suit up again in 2019. But a few weeks before the school year began, Mazza informed Nadelen that he would not play.

“So many emotions were involved,” Mazza recalled. “I was sad, angry, disappointed, embarrassed. Mentally, I was not ready to come back, and it sucked because my best friends — Zach Goodrich, Alex Woodall, Timmy Monahan, Grant Maloof, Matt Sovero — I didn’t get to play with Alex, Timmy and Zach that last year. That really upset me. So when I’m playing on the field, I’m playing for them partly. But mentally, I was not ready to come back.”

Mazza turned his attention to his courses and getting a bachelor’s degree in sports management, but couldn’t stay away from lacrosse. He said he watched every game last spring — some in person, some on television and some on the internet. But a conversation with former Tigers players Matt and Brian Vetter that included some choice words changed Mazza’s mind.

“We were like, ‘You’re the most talented [pansy] we’ve ever met. You’re mentally soft, you’re mentally weak, you live off your parents, you get to do whatever you feel like, and you’re just a spoiled brat,'” said Matt Vetter, who was a long-stick midfielder. “I think we just gave him some tough love and brutal honesty.

“There’s also the perspective of it being over. After college, it’s nothing but babies and memories and you have to work for the rest of your life. You’ve got to enjoy it and take advantage of the opportunity in front of you.”

Mazza, who worked out with the Vetters for 30 days at 5 a.m. at a couple of gyms outside Annapolis, credited them with helping revive his passion for lacrosse. He also cited former offensive coordinator Anthony Gilardi’s periodic text messages and calls for keeping him at Towson.

“I think Jon is a good kid, and like anyone else, he’s made some mistakes, but my goal was to make sure that he graduated,” said Gilardi, who is now the coach at Stony Brook. “I wanted to do whatever it took for him and his family. They entrusted Jon into my care because I was coaching the offense. He and I had a great relationship the entire time he was playing, and I wanted to make sure that he was able to graduate, and if there was a way for him to finish out his career, I wanted to make that happen because I know how much lacrosse means to him.”

Last summer, Mazza met twice with Nadelen and expressed his desire to return. He suffered an injury and missed fall workouts, but recovered quickly enough to start at attack Saturday and finish with two goals on five shots, one ground ball and one caused turnover.

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Redshirt senior midfielder Grant Maloof, who has known the 6-foot-4, 207-pound Mazza for the past nine years, is happy to see his friend return.

“It’s awesome,” said Maloof, who also grew up in Davidsonville. “He brings size to our attack. We obviously graduated [attackman] Brendan Sunday. So he can fill that gap. He definitely brings a lot of things to our offense.”

Nadelen said Mazza’s maturity is evident.

“He’s been a kid that has changed his ways in a humble way in regards to his role on the team,” he said. “He hasn’t taken a backseat, but he realizes that he still has an influence on the team. He also knows that guys like [junior defenseman] Koby Smith and [redshirt senior midfielder] Grant Maloof and [senior midfielder] Jake McLean are truly the leaders, and he realizes that he needs to re-establish himself as a teammate, and I think he’s done a pretty good job of that up to this point.”

Mazza chuckled when asked what he would change if he had the chance.

“I would change a lot of things,” he said. “I think my head got way too big. That cockiness on the field, I carried it off the field, and it really came back to haunt me. What goes around, comes around.”

Mazza said being away from the team for more than a full season has given him a greater appreciation.

“The biggest thing is just having gratitude,” he said. “My freshman and sophomore years, we had such good leaders on the team like Joe Seider and Ryan Drenner and Mike Lowe and Ben McCarty, guys that I could look up to. When I would stray off the path a little bit, they would drag me back and make sure that I wasn’t messing up. My junior year, I didn’t have those guys, and it was up to me to be a leader, and I failed. I’ve talked to Nads a countless amount of times in his office — some good and some bad. Like I told him, every bad thing that I’ve done, every disappointing thing I’ve done, it’s a learning experience, and the way you’ve got to look at it is, you can only get better from this.”

Mount St. Mary’s@Towson

Saturday, noon

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