Loyola Blakefield senior Ryan Conrad vividly remembers the 10 seconds that helped shape him into a special athlete.
His Lutherville recreation 11-12 lacrosse team was playing for the championship with the game tied and those 10 ticks left for someone to become a hero. His coach called timeout to find out who wanted the ball.
He found open space down the right alley and went with his left hand to get a shot off just before he was crushed by a defender. It wasn't until his teammates piled on top of him that he knew he scored.
"It was one of the most accomplished feelings I've ever had," Conrad said, "because I stepped up to the plate and got the job done when my team needed it."
A three-sport star at Loyola, Conrad says the confidence he gained that day changed him. Whether he was playing soccer, basketball or his favorite sport, lacrosse, he started attacking challenges with more vigor. He came to expect success and regularly delivered.
For the past three years, Inside Lacrosse has rated Conrad, a 6-foot midfielder who has committed to Virginia, as the top recruit in the country for the 2015 class. This spring, he will earn his 12th varsity letter since his freshman year and he's determined to add to the three Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championships he has been part of (two in soccer, one in lacrosse) to cap his stellar high school career.
The Dons have a strong senior class, a core that was instrumental in the team's title run in 2013. Conrad believes experience will help them reach their lofty expectations for this season.
"I think this year, we know exactly who we are and what we want to do," Conrad said. "We know how we're going to get there, we just need to execute every way we can so we can hopefully win the title"
If the Dons reach the championship game, past history says their chances are good with Conrad.
In his sophomore year, he scored both goals to lead the soccer team to a 2-0 win over Gilman for the championship. That spring, undefeated Boys' Latin came to the lacrosse title game as the country's No. 1 team and built a fast 6-0 lead on Loyola. But the Dons rallied, with Conrad tying the game at 10 to set up an epic, 11-10, win that is regarded as the biggest title-game upset in the league history.
Though lacrosse coach Jack Crawford wasn't there for the soccer team's upset championship win over McDonogh in the fall — the Eagles also came into the game undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country — he wasn't the least bit surprised to hear Conrad scored both goals in another 2-0 win for the Dons.
"Because I'd seen it before," Crawford said.
"For one thing, he's extremely confident in his ability to be successful ... and, consequently, he doesn't get intimidated by any situation. Some guys are plenty talented but not always confident in their ability. He's not the kind of guy who ever has any doubt that he can either get the job done himself or put his teammates in a position to get things done."
Conrad's zest to compete comes with assorted qualities that few lacrosse players can match. He's big and physical, fast and explosive, and his skills and game sense are uncanny. Those traits allow him to affect a game a number of ways at midfield with rugged, two-way play. He has 134 points (71 goals and 63 assists) in his three-year career and also dominates on ground balls and defense. The Dons also use him at the faceoff X on occasion.
"You just have to be really on high alert every time he touches the ball and you don't necessarily say that about many kids," Boys' Latin coach Bob Shriver said. "Some kids take plays off, some might be inclined to do similar things all the time. But in Ryan, I don't know that you can count on him doing the same things all the time. So you just need to be on high alert."
Senior midfielder Jack Lombardo has seen the best that Conrad brings. He played with him on the Lutherville youth team and celebrated with Conrad on the soccer and lacrosse fields at Loyola.
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"Ryan is always really dialed in, but it seems that in situations where he has to take his play to another level, he can and always pulls through," Lombardo said. "It makes you feel like all you have to do is your job and everything is going to work out because you know he'll do his job and that extra."
Conrad is one of two Dons who have been four-year starters in Crawford's 13 years as coach. The other is 2008 grad Steele Stanwick, who led his team to the MIAA A championship in his senior year before enjoying an All-American career at Virginia.
While Conrad has been a catalyst for the Dons in prior seasons, he has a new challenge ahead.
"The difference this year, as a senior, he's going to have to take on a role where he's not only going to have to continue to be a great player from a physical standpoint, but now he's going to have to learn to be a bit of a mentor to the younger guys," Crawford said. "That's kind of the last bridge you have to cross before you really can say you've had a complete career. When you get to the point where you've been successful enough to be in a leadership position then you have to do what's expected of you, which is to lead. I think that's the last thing he'll be expected to do and I'm sure he'll do a great job of it."