Dingman relishes 2nd chance

Navy's top scorer, who had flunked out, returns with new focus

March 11, 2006|By GARY LAMBRECHT | GARY LAMBRECHT,SUN REPORTER

He had just finished his third test of the day in the classroom. Up next was another arduous lacrosse practice, which would be followed by another night long on studies and short on sleep, before the Navy lacrosse team would board an early morning flight to San Diego.

Ian Dingman, the physically imposing junior attackman and one of the more gifted scorers who has played at the academy, looked tired and sounded thrilled to be feeling that way at a place he cherishes.

A year after failing academically, then suffering the embarrassment of being dismissed from the academy, Dingman is back in his element.

The youngest of three sons who share a strong military background, Dingman was re-admitted last fall at Navy, where administrators determined he had made enough strides while enrolled at Jefferson Community College (Watertown, N.Y.) to return to Annapolis.

The old Dingman, the 6-foot-4, 260-pound force who became the fourth player in Navy history to score 100 points in his first two seasons and led the Midshipmen to the national title game in 2004, is back. His team-high 12 points, which include a team-leading nine goals, has No. 4 Navy in position to start 4-0 with a victory tonight against Bucknell at the University of San Diego's Torero Stadium.

The new Dingman, the one who gave up the game for a year to refocus on becoming a naval officer, has come back with a renewed sense of mission. He wants to win an NCAA championship with the Midshipmen, who fell in last year's national quarterfinals. And he craves the chance to lead people in battle one day.

"I could have transferred someplace else. But I made the decision the day I was kicked out that I didn't want to go anyplace else, and I was going to do everything I could to come back," Dingman said.

"You can say it tastes better or feels better when you have good grades. Taking a year away from the game helped me focus on what's important. [Lacrosse] is one of the best things I do. Academics isn't, but we're working on improving that. I don't think I've ever wavered from the goal of coming here."

In a sense, Dingman, 23, needs to be here. He grew up in Deferiet, a village near the lacrosse hotbed of Carthage, N.Y. He first picked up a stick at age 8, regularly attended Syracuse games at the nearby Carrier Dome, then became a high school teammate of future Orange superstar Mike Powell.

But the family history always pushed Dingman in another direction.

The Dingmans are all about serving their country in uniform. Allen Dingman, Ian's father, is a veteran of both the U.S. Army and Navy. His oldest son, Lee, was a standout lacrosse player at Army who served in Iraq, came home in 2003 after suffering several herniated discs in combat, and now teaches leadership at the Naval Academy. His other son, Chris, graduated from Navy in 2003 after a fine lacrosse career and is now training at Naval Air Station in Kingsville, Texas.

The boys grew up near Fort Drum - their mother, Jane, works there as a physical therapist - where machine gun and artillery training fire comprised a soundtrack. Each of the boys became Eagle Scouts at the fort.

"They were making the decision, but I did everything I could from the time they were little to point them in that [military] direction. You learn things there you don't learn anywhere else," said Allen Dingman, a Syracuse graduate who is the fire chief in Deferiet.

"We knew Ian wasn't going to be a Rhodes scholarship winner, but he's a bright boy. He was on the high school debating team. The academies don't mail out report cards to parents, so we didn't see it coming. We didn't have much to say during our eight-hour drive back home. We didn't talk lacrosse at all. I felt terrible for him. It was not an enjoyable year for him to be back home."

Ian, who graduated from Carthage High School at 17, had struggled with his grades before. Academic problems forced him to attend the Naval Academy Prep School in Rhode Island and the Bridgton Academy in Maine before he landed in Annapolis in 2002.

"You can't run away from it or hide from it," said Ian, who criticized his past work habits. "Getting good grades is something I could have taken care of from the beginning with minimal effort. [The problem] was me."

Dingman watched his former teammates in person twice last year - a preseason scrimmage at Syracuse and a regular-season home game against Georgetown. Upon his reinstatement in August, Dingman reported to the academy weighing nearly 290 pounds and was allowed limited practice and training time with the team in the fall.

To senior attackman Jon Birsner, it's obvious Dingman is taking his second chance seriously. He said Dingman is now in the best shape of his college career, is hustling more than ever in the riding game, and has not lost the skills and instincts that make him a slick feeder, a great shooter with either hand, a pure finisher. Birsner also welcomes the way Dingman's cheerful, happy-go-lucky personality relaxes the team.

"He brings a personality to practice, a love of the game, and people feed off of that," said Birsner, who rooms on the road with Dingman. "He was a big impact player right away after he came back. He's one of the best at getting open, cutting at the right time, and he can handle any pass. He understands he has to be more of a leader than just a scoring leader in the stat book."

"Ian is a great lacrosse player, and we celebrate that. But that ain't the bottom line here," Navy coach Richie Meade added. "I'm a big believer that adversity either makes you better or makes you worse. He's got his priorities in order. He's grown up a little bit."

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

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