A.J. Russo doesn't have to preach to his Mount St. Mary's lacrosse players that academics should come first. He gets the point across by example.
It is Russo who sometimes arrives late for practice. It is Russo who has the occasional late afternoon lab. It is Russo who is huddling with academicians at the meeting that has nothing to do with lacrosse.
Russo, you see, is in his fifth year as an associate professor of biology at the Mount, but only in his second year as head lacrosse coach. His coaching salary, if it can be called that, is little more than pocket money, covering his commute from his home in Frederick to Emmitsburg and an occasional meal.
"Sometimes I don't show up at practice until 5," Russo said before the 17-11 loss to UMBC yesterday that raised the Retrievers' record to 7-4 and trimmed the Mount's to 7-3.
"I'm on three or four academic committees that are important to me and to the school. Other times I'm late because of a lab. It's often impossible to know when an experiment will be done. Fortunately, I have five part-time assistants."
Russo's 15 teaching hours a week include labs as well as lectures. Last spring he received an "Excellence in Science Teaching Award" from the Maryland Association of Science Teachers.
He also devotes as many as 15 hours a week to lab research. In the past 18 months, he has received nearly $100,000 in grants from the National Science Foundation and the Potomac Edison Co. that have gone to purchase equipment for Mount St. Mary's.
"The equipment helps me teach," Russo said, feeling that further explanation was unnecessary.
The 5-foot-6 Russo was a midfielder and faceoff specialist at Hobart, which won the College Division national championship in his senior year, 1972. He coached at Rochester Institute of Technology while earning his master's degree in biology and then picked up his Ph.D. before teaching for five years at Frederick Community College.
"We tried to start a lacrosse team there," Russo said, "but we couldn't get people to come out."
When he arrived at the Mount in 1985, Russo was still playing club lacrosse. Randy Kilgore, then the Mount head lacrosse coach, was delighted when Russo offered to become his assistant. When Kilgore left because of his increased responsibilities as district manager of a publishing company, Russo succeeded him.
"Corny as it sounds, I wanted to give something back to lacrosse," Russo said. "I love the game."
Despite yesterday's loss, the Mount is assured of its seventh straight winning season, the last three in Division I. Three games remain, with Dickinson next up Saturday.
UMBC is now 9-0 in its series with the Mount. The Retrievers' Steve Marohl tied a school single-game record with nine points (four goals, five assists). The junior attackman raised his career point total to 115 and supplanted Todd Canby as No. 10 on the Retrievers' all-time list.