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Coming full circle: Rick Brocato returns to Towson as boys lacrosse coach with an assist from mentor Randy Dase

Towson High boys lacrosse coach Rick Brocato, left, and his assistant coach and mentor Randy Dase look on during practice March 10, 2020.
Towson High boys lacrosse coach Rick Brocato, left, and his assistant coach and mentor Randy Dase look on during practice March 10, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Rick Brocato was anxious and fidgety.

It wasn’t on the day he was set to play in the state championship game for the Towson High boys lacrosse team in 1979.

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Or the exact moment his Washington College coach sent him in to play his first college game a few years later.

And it wasn’t the hours leading into the May night in 2010 when he guided St. Paul’s to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title as the Crusaders head coach.

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Instead, this was on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020 — the day the 57-year-old Brocato came full circle.

After stepping down from the St. Paul’s coaching post in 2017 — following 17 seasons and a program-high 241 wins — he got his whistle back out and headed to the same field he last played on in 1981, this time as the Towson Generals head coach.

Getting breakfast down first was a little difficult.

His wife, Tracey, who he met at Towson during their sophomore year and has been with ever since, couldn’t help but laugh when recalling that morning before the team’s first practice.

“I think he was more than a little nervous — he was really nervous,” she said.

“Deep down, I was laughing ‘Dude, that is in your blood — you were born to teach and coach!’ I told him, ‘You’re going to step on that field and sure you’re going to have butterflies. But that’s a good thing because everybody out there should have butterflies on the first day.’"

The first thing Brocato did after accepting the position last October was ask his former coach Randy Dase, who last coached lacrosse in 1997 but still coaches soccer at his alma mater, to join his staff.

Dase, 65, jumped at the chance.

So there they were. That first day of practice weeks ago was bone-chilling cold, but also somehow warm as they returned to the field together for the first time in 40 years.

“We both kind of took a step back and I think at the same time looked at each other and it was just a deep sigh, ‘Let’s get this thing going, let’s roll with it,’” Brocato said.

Towson High boys lacrosse coach Rick Brocato works with his players March 10, 2020.
Towson High boys lacrosse coach Rick Brocato works with his players March 10, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Catching ‘the bug’

Brocato recently said that he feels like he’s the luckiest guy in the world right now, and Dase, a 1972 Towson grad, is plenty content to take the luckiest guy 1A tag.

He was more than a coach to Brocato back in the day, also a mentor and positive influence that became instrumental in leading him into coaching and teaching.

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Wanting to get into coaching after he graduated from Washington College, Brocato went to Dase, who offered him a chance to serve as a scout for the team.

Brocato took to all parts of Maryland, freezing in the stands during the early season and sweating later — pen and paper in hand.

Dase recently pulled out some of the scouting reports Brocato scripted that have been stashed in a file cabinet in his basement.

“Holy smokes, they were detailed — top shelf,” said Dase, who has always been a stickler for details throughout his coaching career.

Back then, Dase knew immediately he had taught his pupil well.

The appreciative Brocato indeed soaked everything in.

“He made me feel like I was a part of it. I learned so much from him and that’s really where I caught the bug, and I didn’t want to let him down, so I worked really hard,” Brocato said. “We would discuss the scouting reports and how he was going to implement them into practice and all of a sudden I started to see this is what a coach does day in and day out, this is the routine, this is the process and these are the details that lay the foundation.”

Towson High boys lacrosse coach Rick Brocato, left, and his assistant coach Randy Dase are Towson alumni. Dase was Brocato's coach and mentor.
Towson High boys lacrosse coach Rick Brocato, left, and his assistant coach Randy Dase are Towson alumni. Dase was Brocato's coach and mentor. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Old school

Having graduated 19 seniors from last year’s team that reached the Baltimore County championship game under former coach Shawn Burke, there’s plenty of teaching ahead this season with fellow Towson alums Bob Pamponio (1986) and Pat O’Connor (1979) also serving as assistant coaches.

Before the season was suspended last week because of the coronavirus pandemic, senior midfielder Jack Carter said the preseason practices were full of energy and uplifting.

“I’ve never had a coach like Brocato before. He understands me as a player and he’s just a great guy, honestly. If there’s one word I would use to describe him, it’s like he’s the guy for the program,” said Carter, who is in his third varsity season and set to play at Randolph Macon next year. “And with coach Dase and his past here, I’m happy to have him as a coach, too, being here for us and teaching us the old-school stuff. It’s awesome.”

All the instruction comes with old-school phrases — started by Dase, taken by Brocato to St. Paul’s and now brought back to the Generals.

“One is to ‘bring your briefcase’ because we’re going to learn every single day we’re out here,” Brocato said. “And then 'win the day’ because we want to be great today and better than we were yesterday. These guys have responded really, really well to it all.”

Pomponio spent the past three years as an assistant under Burke and was the goalie for the Generals’ state championship team in 1985 — one of eight Dase captured in his 18 seasons at the helm.

He said it’s an honor standing side by side with Brocato and Dase, teaching the new Generals the ways of the program’s successful past.

“I think the boys are really getting to understand what the Towson lacrosse tradition is all about,” he said.

“It has meant a lot to me — kind of made me who I was when I went to school here, and so I try to impart that on these kids because I want them to understand they are not only playing for themselves, but their school and our tradition.”

Towson High boys lacrosse coach Rick Brocato works with his players March 10, 2020.
Towson High boys lacrosse coach Rick Brocato works with his players March 10, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

'Appreciative’

The hope, like everywhere, is that the virus surrenders and the season can be salvaged. Currently, the state’s public schools are required to cancel practices through March 30, which would be the first day back to school following the two-week break that was mandated. At that point, teams will need further authorization before being able to resume practices.

With so much turnover from last year’s team, this year’s Generals will be underdogs, and they look forward to catching opponents by surprise.

It’s a perfect scenario for Brocato and Co., a chance to do more of what they do best — teach.

After all the big wins back in the day, Brocato recalls Dase giving his players one last order before they headed home.

“I remember Randy telling us: ‘Take a look around and look at your parents, looks at your friends. Everybody is smiling — be appreciative of that,’” Brocato said.

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