Dylan Grimm has football is his blood. The same is true of Kevin Moriarty and J.P. Dalton.
The game of football helped put food on their tables growing up, and a roof over their heads. It's a part of who they are, and a part of the family tree. The tremendous respect they feel for the game was instilled in them practically from birth.
But lacrosse? Lacrosse is different. Lacrosse isn't so much about lineage.
Lacrosse is a love story.
That's probably the best way to describe why three strong, quick, athletic kids — whose fathers all played in the NFL — are currently playing lacrosse for Loyola instead of wearing football pads on a big college campus somewhere. They're part of a Greyhounds (5-3) team that has won two straight games heading into Saturday's home game against Fairfield. A win would put Loyola — which broke into The Baltimore Sun poll at No. 20 this week — in second place in the ECAC.
Dalton, Moriarty and Grimm could almost certainly have suited up on a college gridiron in this fall if they'd really wanted to. Each of them was a pretty good high school football player, with the size and necessary aggressiveness to play at the next level. Instead, they chose to fight for ground balls and check sticks instead of tackling ball carriers. Their goal isn't to play in a bowl game, but to help the Greyhounds return to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons.
"I really believe they have lacrosse in their hearts," Charley Toomey said. "I think when it came time to choose, their minds were pretty made up."
In some respects, the story of how all three ended up choosing lacrosse over football — despite their NFL family ties — is a testament to the growth of lacrosse as a sport over the last decade.
"In years past, a lot of football players were told to play lacrosse in the spring just to stay in shape," Toomey said. "I think what's happened is, kids who have grown up playing in established leagues with good coaches end up embracing it. If you're talented and you have the mental toughness that football requires, there is a place for you in the sport of lacrosse."
Grimm, who has started all eight games for the Greyhounds at defense, is a prime example of someone everyone expected to continue playing football, only to watch him dodge expectations and instead choose lacrosse. His father, Russ Grimm, played on the offensive line for the Washington Redskins for 11 seasons, and was part of the group dubbed "The Hogs" in the 1980s. He's a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, currently the assistant head coach with the Arizona Cardinals, and two of his sons, Chad and Cody, played football at Virginia Tech and are now involved in the NFL. (Chad is a quality control coach with the Arizona Cardinals; Cody plays for the Tampa Bay Bucs.)
"When we were younger, football was definitely bigger for me and my brothers," Dylan Grimm said. "I didn't start playing lacrosse until the sixth grade. A couple of my friends tried to get me to come out and I just kind of shrugged it off. ... When my dad was coaching for the Redskins, we'd always go to all the games on Sundays, and that was a big influence on us."
But when Grimm finally picked up a stick, the more he played lacrosse, the more he felt drawn to the game. When Toomey was recruiting him, he watched one of Grimm's football games at Oakton High School in Virginia, a school that often gets 3,000 people to attend games, and was awed by what a vicious hitter he was. He tried to sell Grimm on the idea that Loyola was a school where the lacrosse team was essentially treated like the football team by the student body. But as it turned out, it wasn't a difficult sales pitch.
"I definitely still miss football," said Grimm, a junior and starting defenseman for the Greyhounds. "But I think it came down to the fact that I just liked lacrosse more. It was more fun."
Grimm, in Toomey's eyes, is just now blossoming as a lacrosse player.
"He's very analytical," Toomey said. "He studies film almost the way you would if you were playing football. But he's very athletic and intelligent. I think he really wants to take the next step. When he starts playing with the same instinctive energy he played with on the football field, we know we're going to have a big-time player."
Heart and soul
J.P. Dalton, who has appeared in six games in a reserve role and won .593 of his faceoffs, wasn't really torn between two worlds the way Grimm was growing up. Although he played football and lacrosse at St. Mary's high school, lacrosse was, by far, the more popular sport amongst his friends. It didn't really matter than his father Steve had brief stints with the Colts, Redskins and Saints in the 1970s. He and his older brother, Will, who played lacrosse at Maryland, were always drawn to hold a stick in their hands. Football was fun — but only when it wasn't lacrosse season.