An Oral History of Jerry Ragonese’s first career goal
By Austin Owens | Jul 22, 2022
1,058 days… 25,392 hours…1,523,520 minutes… 91,411,200 seconds. That’s how long Jerry Ragonese had to wait to make his return to Premier Lacrosse League action after a three-year hiatus from game action.
The face-off specialist was the third man in the pecking order for the defending champion Chaos to open the season. But heading into the team’s fifth game against the Cannons on July 2, he found himself being called into action at the last second.
Ragonese joined Chaos in Baltimore for practice ahead of their Week 4 matchup with the Waterdogs, where he was informed that he may be needed in Minneapolis for Week 5.
With Max Adler on the PUP List, Ragonese was the backup to Tommy Kelly, who had been Chaos’ main draw man to open the season. But there was a chance Kelly wouldn’t be able to play against the Cannons due to a family emergency.
“I’ve had a lot of things happen in my career where I got on the field, but this isn’t the way I wanted it to go,” Ragonese said. “I was hoping nothing bad happened, but I would be ready to go.
“When the rosters came out, (Andy Towers) said, ‘Hey, we’re going with TK. But be ready in case.’ I knew the game was in Minnesota and originally thought our game was on Friday. So it’s Thursday afternoon and I say to myself that at 2:00 or 3:00, I’m going to go workout and just crush myself so I could crush burgers and hot dogs over the long weekend without feeling bad about it.”
“...I literally said to myself, ‘I don’t want to be able to walk on Saturday.’”
Ragonese’s original plan didn’t go quite the way he’d expected. After working until well after 6:00 on Thursday, but as he was walking out the door to take on a gruelling leg day at the gym, he got a call from Towers.
“I didn’t even get a hello, AT just goes, ‘You’re in.’ And I just said back ‘F***.’ I thought I had to get on a plane in the next 20 minutes. AT told me we were playing Saturday and they’d get me on a plane in the morning. So I calmed down and just said, ‘OK, cool. Let me go and get my stuff together, tell my wife that our Fourth of July plans are ruined, and tell my parents that I’m going out to Minnesota.
“Fortunately, my family is a big support group and they were very happy for me. But now, I’m trying to drink as much Gatorade as possible and stay hydrated. It was a whole out of the frying pan, into the fryer type of thing.”
Friday morning, Ragonese was on a flight to Minneapolis for Chaos’ Week 5 matchup against the Cannons, getting prepped to make his first PLL appearance since the 2019 season.
“(The call) was at the last possible moment. But it’s always a great call when you get to tell someone that they’re in the lineup,” Towers said. “I think he was a little shocked at first just because of the timing of it. But he pivoted quickly and reiterated that he was excited and ready to go.”
Ragonese kept it light ahead of his season debut, playing some games on the plane ride. He also made sure to rep the Wu-Tang Clan Crocs getting off the bus in Minneapolis.
When he made it into the locker room, it was time to get prepped for a massive showdown for his team. But Ragonese made a point to tone down his regular pre-game routine and bring a different vibe than he had before.
“I always tried to go a million miles an hour and I’d be all jacked up on caffeine and pre-workout. I’d be listening to death metal and be huffing and puffing and trying to fire myself up to be the meanest, baddest man out there,” Ragonese said. “This time, I kind of just said to myself, ‘Hey, I’m playing with house money here. Let’s stay loose and let’s have fun.’ I don’t have anything to lose. Let’s just go out and enjoy myself.
“I knew they weren’t going to have my jersey because I barely got there. How would they have my jersey ready (on short notice)? So I’m not even going to have my name on my jersey, so who cares? You can only go up from here. So I changed up my music and stayed off the caffeine. I was obviously hyped up, I was taking this seriously. But on a normal game day, I can’t speak, there are tears in my eyes. I’m thinking of anyone who’s ever wronged me in my life to prove a point.
“I just said to myself, if I lose a draw, I’ll go out and get the next one. I’m going to play to my strengths and just have a good time. That was the mentality I kind of came out with and I liked that a lot better. I hold myself to a high standard, but being a little bit kinder to myself going out there was preferable to being my own worst critic.”
Among Ragonese’s changes when it came to the pregame playlist differed between a Japanese jam band called Drowned Shrimp, Daft Punk, and Wu-Tang.
Once it was time to lock in ahead of the game, Ragonese and Towers talked through the face-off strategy they wanted to implement against the Cannons. Sean Quirk’s squad strayed from the norm in this matchup, dressing two face-off specialists in Stephen Kelly and Alex Woodall.
“When you’re a face-off guy, it’s generally a pretty lonely place because coaches don’t necessarily understand the plight of the face-off guys. But AT is one of the best to ever do it,” Ragonese said. “So we were just sitting and talking about the best situation for us, where to put our wings, and who would go out there if I went early.”
Week 5 was a chance for Chaos to take back control of their fate with a victory over the Cannons. Towers and his staff spoke to the team ahead of the game, and with a little anecdote about confronting a dog owner in his back pocket, the master motivator unleashed another electric locker room speech for his team.
“That one’s gotta be up there in terms of speeches by AT,” Chaos LSM CJ Costabile said. “It’s gotta be top two or three for sure. I don’t know where these anecdotes keep coming from. I just want to know how much time is spent thinking about these speeches because at some point, you think he’s going to run out of juice and he just keeps going. He gets the boys fired up, that’s for sure.”
At the apex of the speech, Towers got in Ragonese’s face to help light a fire under him ahead of that opening draw.
“He sets the tone with breaking down doors and smashing walls, and you match that energy because you know it's time to go,” Ragonese said. “Not every team has that player or coach that has that presence to buy into that kind of energy. I know the boys get fueled off it and it fired me right up.
“He got right in my face and I’m so glad I didn’t blink or flinch and the cameras didn’t catch me being a little baby. But I was just trying to hype myself up and that’s what he’s there for. That’s what he does.”
Ragonese started the game going 2 of 8 from the stripe, but despite that, Chaos was able to jump out to a 4-1 lead off of a pair of goals from Josh Byrne as well as markers from Kyle Jackson and Chris Cloutier.
But to end the quarter, it was Ragonese who gave his team the biggest shot in the arm. Off a clean clamp and release following Cloutier's marker, Ragonese made a beeline for the net, using a Superman dive to vault forward and power a shot home to make it 5-1.
“I knew Marrocco is a lefty and so am I, so I wanted to bait him to the right side and then pull back to the left. I’ve been thinking about that same shot for God knows how long,” Ragonese said. “Nobody’s expecting a face-off guy to do anything other than throw the ball at the net. If you add any extra spice to it, you’ll normally get them because you’re running straight at the cage as opposed to a midfielder who’s usually dodging down the alley.
“Somebody told me that, ‘We’re not respecting Jerry as a shooter.’ Well, why would they? It’s the least expected thing. Of course, I want to pass the ball to Josh (Byrne) or Fraze (Chase Fraser). But (the defenders) were so far out on those guys that the best opportunity on the field was for me to shoot.”
The goal was a massive one for Chaos, as it capped a 5-1 first quarter that helped them gain momentum that they’d carry for the rest of the contest. Ragonese got up and was able to celebrate his first career goal with his teammates.
“99 percent of the locker room knows it's their first and guys are going to be excited regardless of if it's a rookie’s first goal or a veteran of the league. If you’ve gone that long in your career without scoring a goal, it’s a big deal,” Chaos defender Jack Rowlett said of the moment. “Then there’s the factor of the goal coming off the face-off itself. That’s a juice goal in any game. I think it was just the perfect storm of circumstance and situation that allowed that goal to be as meaningful as it was.
“...You get a guy like Jerry who’s just a good dude and someone who everyone enjoys having on the team. He’s just cut from a different cloth and fits into our mould already just based on who he is naturally.
“From RIT to The Face-Off Academy to the pros, he has that ‘Nothing has ever come easy to me’ mentality, which is why I think our team exploded so much when he scored that goal.”
"He's one of my favourite people in the world of lacrosse. You talk about a guy that works so hard, he's so self-aware, and he's just a quality guy," Costabile said of Ragonese. "He's the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back without hesitating if you needed it.
"...He's a hungry guy. Everyone wants to be successful, but he could have mailed it in (after the time off), and instead, he came in and did this for the team. To go out there and compete against a face-off tandem can be really frustrating and to go the other way and stick one, that's a huge momentum boost. Not just because he's a face-off guy, but because it's Jerry and it's just the battle that he had to get there. Those are the kind of things books are written about and the thing you dream of as a kid."
Following his goal, Ragonese sprung up and was doing a walking cane celebration. Costabile said that he wasn’t sure if Ragonese was injured at first, but then realized it was just the draw man letting his personality show.
However, Ragonese had sustained a lower-body injury that would force him out of the game following the goal.
With the trainer working on him, Ragonese had another one-liner for the broadcast in a quick interview.
Unfortunately, Ragonese wasn’t cleared to return and was forced to watch the rest of the game from the sideline.
“Jerry was dying to go back out there, and that’s why they’re at this level because they won’t make any excuses. And even though he was hurt, Jerry was fully intending to go back into that game,” Towers said. “We held him out until halftime and then decided at halftime that, even though he might be able to compete at the X, the reality was that he wasn’t going to be able to run after the draw.
“...In typical Jerry fashion, he said, ‘You’re making the right decision,’ even though he wanted to be out there. He prioritized the success of the team over what he wanted personally. That’s the sign of a great teammate and a winner."
The duo of Costabile and Rowlett were tasked with taking draws for the rest of the game, with Troy Reh and Ian MacKay also taking a face-off each. Despite Chaos running under 50 percent, they were able to get impact plays from the stripe.
Rowlett raked a ball loose and scooped it up in stride before sticking the shot on the run for the first goal of his PLL career.
“I got a lot of people individually in my life that were taking credit for that goal,” Rowlett said with a laugh. “My little brother wanted credit, he was saying, ‘Dude, we used to practice that in the backyard.’ My Georgetown guys…all four of them wanted their individual credit for it. They were all saying, ‘I showed you that Coach Row.’ But it was very nice to receive. I had a lot of support (in the face-off) community. So it was very nice.”
With Towers on the sidelines to help gameplan face-offs without a true specialist available for Chaos. But Ragonese opted to stay in his full gear and uniform and support his teammates from the sidelines.
After taking a full quarter’s worth of draws for the night, he was able to relay certain things that the Cannons were doing and the ref’s cadences to try and give his guys a leg up.
Rowlett’s goal was followed shortly after by another pole goal off a draw win, this time from Costabile, who snaked through the defense after collecting the ground ball and fired another shot past Marrocco.
In the end, Chaos was able to hold off the Cannons for their first win of the season. The three goals off face-offs ended up being the difference, as the defending champions took the game 13-11.
“I just told them to get in and get out and just rake and slap, rake and slap,” Ragonese said of any advice he offered to the poles. “Having three goals off face-offs is huge for the unit in general, but those guys are pros. They know what’s up. We always have a Plan B should anything happen. Those guys did their job to a tee, and I’m honestly more proud of them than anything I did that day. That was a huge rope unit effort.”
“CJ is really good at getting into the body and causing tie-ups, and he’s really good at moving the ball with his feet. I’ll try to throw some moves in there,” Rowlett said of the different face-off styles between Costabile and himself. “So I think that combination made it harder for the Cannons to get into a rhythm. At the same time, CJ and I were kind of having a blast. At halftime, we just went, ‘Alright, we’ll just go back and forth until one of us gets tired.’”
There’s still lots of work to do when it comes to Chaos making the playoffs, but with the Cannons matchup being a proverbial must-win scenario, the victory alleviated some of the internal pressure heading into the All-Star Break.
Ragonese’s story is one that you can’t help but root for. He’s one of the best personalities in the sport who has worked for 11 years in the pros to work for his chances to shine.
But the face-off position brings new, young talent into the pro game every passing year. There was never a guarantee that he would get another shot to prove himself in the PLL. But after the years of blood and sweat, countless reps, and workouts to stay ready, Ragonese took full advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself.
“There are doubts in anything that anybody does in society. It’s if you let those voices get to you. For me, I’m never sure about anything. In fact, I’m a fatal pessimist. But that allows me to know possibilities. So I sat there and said that I’ll be ready if that phone call comes. Worst case scenario, that call never came and I just say to myself that I was always ready rather than getting caught with my pants down,” Ragonese said. “I said to myself that I’m never going to let that fall come where I’m not ready for a situation.
“I talk every week with Mark Glicini about the team, how things are going, and the morale. I like to hear his perspective on things as a captain. That week, he’d sent me a little note that just said, ‘What’s delayed is not denied. It will never come the way you want it to. With faith, it comes even better than expected. Back to work.’ Three days later, I get that phone call and he just went back to the message and liked it in our text chat, so I was laughing. I’m not overly religious, but God does work in mysterious ways.
“It wasn’t just a last-second call. It was a culmination of the last three years where I wasn’t able to play because of COVID and then, I’m making masks for people. In the bubble in 2020, I didn’t get a look. I called every coach before this season and I drove out to Long Island, three hours there and three hours back with Connor Farrell every week since November.
“The effort was put in and the universe was kind enough to give it back to me. So I'm thankful and grateful for where I’m at. But we’re not done. I’m not dead yet, as I like to say.”