Petro, a retro Blue Jay

Lacrosse: Dave Pietramala, part of Johns Hopkins' glory days as a player, hopes to restore the luster as the coach.


July 09, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Dave Pietramala has stomped back into town, seeking to restore the luster of his alma mater's lacrosse program while bringing with him a chunk of history.

A storied player in the sport, Pietramala accepted the head coaching job at Johns Hopkins a month ago and seems intent on putting a little grit into the Blue Jays.

Hopkins alumni must think back more than a decade to recall the school's last national championship, but Pietramala has a solid reminder of the program's glory days.

As a sophomore defenseman in 1987, he saved a 2-inch circular tuft of grass from Rutgers Stadium, his only keepsake from the day the Blue Jays celebrated their NCAA-record seventh and last title. He put the brown clump of sod in a glass to display in his house.

That's Petro, a man as uncomplicated as his nickname.

He's still the straight-talking guy who grew up in the middle-class Long Island town of Hicksville, N.Y. He's still the same defenseman who redefined the position by relishing bone-crunching body checks as much as game-saving takeaways. He's still the fiery leader who relies on his tenacious approach to achieve what he wants.

It's an in-your-face style that sometimes can be misunderstood, especially because the bellowing voice resonates from a man who stands 6 feet 4.

Pietramala will scream when correcting mistakes. He'll scream when congratulating his team. He's been known to test his players by running practices like a boot camp. He's been known to test his players by simply running them.

In three years at Cornell, his authoritative demeanor scared away enough players to field another team and turned off some recruits.

Pietramala, though, came up with a core of committed players that elevated the once-struggling Big Red into the top 10 while helping him become last season's Coach of the Year in Division I.

Last week, Pietramala started his search for his first recruiting class at Hopkins, watching nearly 400 high school players from the sideline at the Top 205 camp at Loyola College.

Wearing a gray Blue Jays T-shirt, he dissected the action and scribbled on his clipboard when a player hustled after a ground ball while tired, made an unselfish pass, or high-fived a teammate after he scored.

He usually contacts recruits weekly on the phone and hand-writes lengthy letters. However, since the recruiting season opened July 1 - less than a month after he was hired at Hopkins - Pietramala has been working on the fly this summer. He sent out typed letters.

These thoughtful touches contrast the intense persona of Pietramala on the field.

"What you see is what you get. I'm not a complicated guy," said Pietramala, 32, a 1990 Hopkins graduate. "Maybe I'm a simpleton. I think if people take time to know me that they'll find I am a person that cares a great deal. I'm just a very competitive person who hates to lose.

"I am a very emotional person. I'm not a quiet person on the practice field or when I'm with my close friends. That's me. If I don't act the way I am, our guys are going to see right through that and think I am full of baloney."

Those players who persevered admit to seeing the reasoning behind the ranting.

"He evolved into a player's coach," said Bob Werhane, a two-year starting senior defenseman at Cornell and a St. Paul's School graduate. "But his intensity never [wavered]. I would not be playing lacrosse if it were not for him."

Said Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni, who was an assistant under Pietramala for the past three seasons: "Maybe `tough love' would be a good term. ... You have to know the man to love the man. He asked our guys to understand not how he's saying it, but what he's saying."

`I wasn't very good'

Pietramala is revered as one of the most feared players in the game. But here's a scarier notion: He came close to never picking up a lacrosse stick.

Although raised on Long Island, one of the sport's hotbeds, Pietramala wasn't exposed to lacrosse until he got to high school. His father, who worked as the director of purchasing at St. John's University in New York City, favored watching baseball in the spring.

After Pietramala played JV basketball for St. Mary's High, coach John Espey suggested that he come out in the spring for lacrosse, which Espey also coached.

Pietramala wasn't exactly a natural.

"I wasn't very good," Pietramala said. "I spent most of my time playing crease midfielder trying to screen the goalie. I got hit by more shots than anything else."

Although he continued playing basketball, Pietramala shifted his focus to improving in lacrosse.

By his senior year, Pietramala was one of New York's best and was a part of the first Empire State Games, an all-star event for the top players in the state.

He was recruited by Maryland, Syracuse, and Loyola before then-Hopkins coach Don Zimmerman and assistant Bill Tierney lured him to Homewood with the unparalleled success of the program.

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