My Memories Coaching Garrett Epple at Notre Dame
By Gerry Byrne | May 29, 2020
You have all read the line 100’s of times.
You have heard it uttered by dozens of talking heads in NFL pre-game analyses and in ESPN Documentaries.
The cliché, ”Insert Name Here” has what cannot be coached or taught.
That cliché, as old and tired as it may be, still rings true for the rare athlete who combines enough athleticism with ferocious competitiveness & Einstein-level spatial awareness.
Combine the aforementioned elements with a heat-seeking closing speed and you have Garrett Epple the athlete but it doesn’t tell the full story of who he is.
I can still recall the first time I saw Garrett play. It was at the old Blue Chip Camp at UMBC. It was 100 degrees in the shade. I was pondering my Taneytown Deli order and the imminent RBA Hoop run when Garrett made a ridiculously athletic approach on an attackman who had fumbled a poor transfer pass from one side of X to another. In a split second he went from straddling GLE in an off ball role to poking, stripping and boxing out the attackman from the ball and began striding up the sideline in front of me and dozens of coaches. I would normally follow all of my fellow coaches and dutifully jot down our interpretations of that play but I just watched. I did not need to write, I knew what I saw
As a coach and recruiter, you long for those moments of clarity when what you are looking for intersects with what is right in front of you. That epiphany is rare. It happens once every few years. The only thing I wrote down was “Yes”.
Fast forward a few years and Garrett is starting his first collegiate game. It happens to be a “must-win” game for ND in the semi-finals of our 1st ACC Tournament as a member of that league. He is a freshman but his poise and game sense is already otherworldly. In the pre-shot clock era, and with less than 12 seconds left to go in the game he strips Maryland middie Mike Chanenchuk sparking a Jack Near to Matt Kavanagh fast-break and a 6-5 win.
Those two plays are just a few of many that leap to mind when thinking about Garrett. His easy-going nature belies a competitive heat (and chirping ability) that never waned, whether it was ping pong, Spikeball, “Eliminator” or a Final Four game. He is the owner of some of the most viral (and clean) hits in NCAA and PLL history that stem from his great ability to assess the classic “Ball-You-Man” triangle, assess the split, react to a pass and close the space fluidly for a slide or violently for a hit.
For Garrett he has a unique ability to be both competitive in the moment and dispassionate relative to the individual or opponent. His #NeverRattled mantra uttered from a toothy grin after another “Eliminator” win or in a post-tournament game victory will remain with me forever.
I have enjoyed watching him compete in the PLL. I was fortunate to be on the sideline and in the locker room (thanks Coach NSL) for the Redwoods game at Homewood last June to see Garrett and his ND teammates play a great game. Garrett ended up having an absurd stat line playing great on-ball D vs. Guterding, collecting a bushel of groundballs, and scoring a dangling slick backhanded end to end goal. At that moment I remember thinking about Garrett playing midfield in Florida as a 7th grader before moving to Baltimore and Calvert Hall and converting to defense. He always had been slick off of the ground and an ability to escape pressure and watching him that day brought it all back for me.
From HS recruiting events, to ACC Tourneys, from Arlotta ping-pong to ruthless “Eliminator” victories I see Garrett for who he was, is and is becoming.
He was always a lover of competition. That shown through at 15 and has never diminished. You can see it on EVERY possession in the PLL.
He came to understand the value of team, both in defense and in life & how what he did/did not do affected others (both on the field and off). His teammates, many of them he has reunited with on the Redwoods have helped him grow as a player and person.
He has become a man who teaches the game to others and impacts their lives positively as people and teammates.
I feel fortunate to have known Garrett for almost 10 years now. I thank Coach Kelly from Calvert Hall who coached and mentored Garrett before arriving at ND. I thank Steven Kelly for humoring Garrett and his parents with a visit to South Bend and coming along for the ride. I’m appreciative of Coach St. Laurent and his staff for believing in Garrett and his ND Teammates as they pursue a PLL Title and for Coach Zissi at Torrey Pines for having Garrett be on his staff and serve others.
I cannot wait to see what the future holds for Garrett, his best plays and best self are still out there.
Gerry Byrne, Current Men's Lacrosse Head Coach at Harvard University. Former University of Notre Dame Assistant Coach.
Today's article is brought to you by the IMLCA Players Directory. Throughout May, Premium Memberships include a $50 credit to the PLL Store. https://imlca.app/signup-direct