Jason Brewster: UMBC Lacrosse's "Four-Star" General

Jason Brewster: UMBC Lacrosse's "Four-Star" General

Jason Brewster was growing frustrated.

 

It was the evening of May 4 and the Major League Lacrosse virtual draft was rolling along. Jason kept refreshing the MLL Twitter page as defenders kept coming off the board. Finally, with the 46th overall selection in the eighth round, the Boston Cannons selected the four-time UMBC team captain.

 

"I know I have the skills to play at that level, so I was getting a little upset," Brewster said. "When I saw my picture, I dropped my computer. I was very excited."

 

No one close to Brewster would be surprised if the late round draftee earns a spot on the roster when the MLL attempts to begin play in the middle of the summer. At every turn, he has been tested and has always been up to the challenges that the sport he loves has presented.

 

Editor's Note: Jason has been selected to the Cannons' 2020 active roster (7/7/20)

 

Humble Beginnings

 

The Brewsters reside in San Diego, not the idyllic, ocean-side setting that most envision, but in the northern region, rich with farmland, cattle and chicken ranches. As a child, Jason played baseball and football, but, despite his natural athleticism, didn't have a passion for either sport.

 

But another sport had emerged on the scene in San Diego and a former UCLA lacrosse standout, Morgan Rodgers, was bringing it to the hinterlands. Rodgers' Poway High School teams had dominated the county and in the early 1990's, he wanted to expand the footprint of the sport northward. Rodgers, who was inducted into the US Lacrosse San Diego Chapter of the Hall of Fame in 2012, noticed Jason's abilities on the gridiron and encouraged him to take a chance on lacrosse.

 

"I fell in love with it and my parents really fell in love with it," Brewster recalls.

 

He started playing in fifth grade, while Lisa and Jim Brewster began the arduous process of establishing a varsity program at the local high school, Valley Center. In 2011, Jason's first year at VCHS, he would don a first-ever Jaguars' lacrosse uniform.

 

Ironically, Jason taught his older brother, James, how to play the game. James, who is four years older than Jason, played club lacrosse at UC-Irvine.

 

West Coast Retrievers

 

Jason earned numerous accolades during his time at Valley Center, including the 2014 Valley League Player of the Year award. He played all over the field, but preferred close defense. And a former Retriever noticed.

 

Zack Burke started on close defense for the Retrievers from 1997-2000. The Annapolis native was a key component on Don Zimmerman's 1998 and 1999 NCAA Tournament teams and captained the 2000 squad. He went on to coach Archbishop Spalding, earning The Baltimore Sun's Coach of the Year honor in 2008, before moving to San Diego and taking over the Poway program in 2011.

 

"I never really thought about playing college lacrosse," Brewster said. "But I met Zach Burke… and he wanted to help me get recruited. He obviously knew Coach Zim and things worked out. UMBC was my only Division I offer."

 

It didn't hurt that UMBC also fit with Jason's scientifically-based academic desires.

 

"Science keeps me intrigued. I knew I wanted to go into something math or physics-based, there were a lot of directions or avenues I could take at UMBC," said Brewster.

 

A Coaching Change

 

Brewster enjoyed a successful freshman year at UMBC. He played primarily long-stick defensive midfield, but, like in high school, he played all over the field, taking face-offs, even playing man-up in one game. But when the season ended, Don Zimmerman, the Hall of Fame coach, retired, and Brewster and his teammates were thrust into a state of the unknown.

 

He considered leaving UMBC, but "a lot of us did," he said. "The idea of not knowing is uncomfortable. But I talked with classmates and we decided we would ride out the (next) year and all stay together," Brewster said. "Losing Coach Zim was tough; he's a helluva coach, a good man and he still stays in contact. I'm very grateful he took the chance on me and the opportunity he gave me."

 

Several weeks later, UMBC tabbed Ryan Moran to take the reins and become just the third Division I head coach in program history.

 

"(Coach Moran) knew what he wanted to do, had a plan and has never veered off of it. We needed a leader to get us out of the hole," said Brewster.

 

Brewster went back to playing close defense and produced an outstanding sophomore campaign. He earned America East Second Team, All-Academic Team, and All-Tournament honors. And, in Coach Moran's first season, the team and staff selected the sophomore – along with seniors Max Maxwell and Ruston Souder - as one of its team captains.

 

"At the end of the fall each class had to pick one word to describe what they felt would be the most important characteristic of a captain for this team," said Moran at the time. "The four characteristics chosen were; devoted, humble, selfless, and authentic. Our players and staff all voted overwhelmingly that these three individuals possess these traits and are poised to take on a pivotal role within the leadership of this team."

 

The Retrievers made the playoffs in 2017, but a tough final game loss at Vermont kept the team out of the 2018 tournament. Brewster captained the 2018 team again and his defense led the country in goals-against average, but devastating injuries to the Retriever attack kept the team from reaching its potential. Brewster was cementing his role as a captain. Then-assistant coach Jamison Koesterer, who ran the UMBC defense, recalled a particular practice in the midst of the record-setting defensive season.

 

"Once in 2018, we were not playing well. It was a bad practice we were having in preparation for a game. I was about to blow the whistle and kick the whole defense off the field as I sometimes did. He (Jason) looked at me and held his hand up - kinda saying 'I got this'. He called the defense over, had a little conversation and made it clear that the way we were playing was not good enough. Sure enough, they came back onto the field and we had a much better practice from then on. I didn't have to say a word. He just knew. I think every coach wants to have a player like that."

 

With players like Ryan Frawley, Trevor Patschorke and Brett McIntyre expected to be at full strength and Brewster and rising junior defenseman Nick Griffin on the backline, the Retrievers were poised for a breakthrough 2018-19 campaign.

 

Tough Times Demand Tough Hearts

 

The first day of fall practice, 2018.

 

Four minutes left on the clock.

 

That was the point at which Jason Brewster tore his ACL.

 

"No one wants to go through anything like that. It was a roller coaster. It taught me a lot about myself and a lot about the people around me," he recalled.

 

He had never suffered a serious injury before. It was his senior season with so many goals in plain view.

 

Although he admits to struggling at times, for the most part, Brewster recalls accepting the challenge and transforming his style of leadership.

 

"I like to help other people through my play. Now, I'm on the sidelines, I have to analyze," Brewster said. "I feel like it helped me to coach the guys and explain things in a different way. It built my repertoire in my ability to lead."

 

To add to the Retrievers' woes, Griffin suffered a season-ending foot injury just before the spring campaign started and the vaunted UMBC defense was in shambles. The coaching staff moved untested players like Gunnar Schimoler and Danny Isaac (later in the season) to the backline in order to protect young goalkeepers Tommy Lingner and Jack Morton.

 

"I think the biggest thing was his confidence in me," said Schimoler, reflecting on Brewster's impact on his position change. "Here I am, (in my) senior year of college with no close defense experience, being asked to become the leader on the field at defense, I didn't know what to expect or how to react, but Jason never questioned my ability. One of the greatest gifts in life is when someone believes in you, and Jason expressed his belief in me from that first practice. I can't imagine how hard it must have been to be injured and on the sidelines during that run we had in 2019, but Jason handled it with such class and poise. He never once complained and also fed me with compliments and words of encouragement."

 

"When I moved to close defense last year, Jason knew that for the team to be successful the transition needed to be smooth," said Isaac. "Jason has an incredible lacrosse IQ and helped me to become able to recognize what I was seeing was in this different perspective… This helped me communicate better which made our defense work better as a whole."

 

And, to make matters worse, UMBC struggled at the face-off "x" for most of the season, putting additional pressure on both sides of the ball. The Retrievers started the campaign at 1-6, losing high-scoring overtime decisions to Brown and America East foe Vermont. When UMass Lowell defeated UMBC, 13-12 in extra time on Senior Day, it looked like the final week at Hartford would be a mere formality.

 

Moran addressed a tearful group of Retrievers after the game. "It was a tough time for the seniors. But the conversation that Coach Moran had, it was more towards the idea of losing that game does not define who we are as people or players. He said it's okay to have those emotions, it's not something that will define us," Brewster said. [2] 

 

But, then the luck started to change for UMBC. Previously winless Binghamton defeated Hartford and UML, setting the Retrievers up with a winner-take-all game for the fourth seed in West Hartford on April 27.

 

"Coach's talk took all of the pressure off of us," recounted Brewster. "We were there out of dumb luck. Let's push the boundaries and see how far we can go. That helped us a lot."

 

Most Retriever fans know what happened next. But, to refresh: UMBC earned the No. 4 seed with an 11-9 win at Hartford, then shocked top-seeded and host Stony Brook, 14-8, in the America East semi-finals. Facing a re-match with Vermont, UMBC fell behind early, but rallied for a dramatic, emotional 14-13 victory and the 2019 America East title. Four days later, the Retrievers won an NCAA Opening Round game at Marist, 14-8, before falling at No. 1 Penn State in the Round of 16.

 

Jason's Choice

 

In the early part of that miraculous run, Brewster had returned to the practice field and harbored some hope of returning to competition. He had no intention of returning for a red-shirt senior season after applying to multiple graduate schools for astronomy or astrophysics. Despite his excellent grades and a life-changing internship at the Institution for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii in the summer of 2018, he struck out on all fronts.

 

"Was that the universe telling me I had to play another year?" said Brewster. "I thought about it, and even thought about taking another graduate year (at another school). Right around the time we played Marist, I talked with Coach Moran – and decided I didn't want to leave the close-knit culture we had at UMBC, my best friends and brothers. I love all these guys and would do anything for them.

 

"It was the best decision of my life to get that extra year."

 

Brewster saw limited action in the fall of 2019 and in scrimmages at Loyola and Princeton in the spring. But Coach Moran had him in the starting lineup against nationally-ranked Georgetown on Opening Day.

 

"I was so nervous, sitting in the training room before the game. (Director of Sports Medicine) Stacy (Carone) was telling me, 'you'll be fine.' I was the last person on the field – Coach (Joe) Bucci didn't think I was going to make it. But one to two minutes in, I settled down."

 

Eight Days, Three Games and One Global Health Crisis

 

After the opening day loss to Georgetown, UMBC quickly recovered and Brewster, along with new freshman linemates (Griffin was still recovering from injury) Tony Diallo and Ben Stephanos played key roles in a 9-4 throttling of Mount St. Mary's. The following week, the Retrievers would begin a three-game homestand, taking on Sacred Heart, Towson and High Point.

 

The news during the week leading up to the Sacred Heart game was dominated by the emergence of the Coronavirus in the United States. Hand-sanitizing and social distancing started to enter the vernacular. Carone and her staff were preparing the athletic department and the student-athletes for some worst-case scenarios, but the men's lacrosse team was hyper-focused on the task at hand.

 

"I was following news of the pandemic, but as we got into that week, we all lost some sense of reality. The focus was on lacrosse and game plans. CoVID-19 was not a thought going into that week," said Brewster.

 

On the field, the eight-day stretch could not have gone much better for the Retrievers. They cruised by Sacred Heart, 13-6, rallied to upend Towson, 10-5, and dominated High Point, 19-13.

 

But, by March 11, the World Health Organization had declared a "pandemic" and the NBA suspended all games when Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive. The Retrievers had started practice for their America East opener at Vermont on the 14th, already knowing they would not be flying, but busing to Burlington.

 

On March 12, news started to leak out that the Ivy and Patriot Leagues had cancelled league competitions. And, the UMBC administration would lead their America East brethren in making the same call.

 

"We all knew that was going to be the case," recalled Brewster.

 

In a touching scene, after Director of Athletics Brian Barrio broke the news to the team, the players took part in 3-on-3 games to finish out the practice.

 

Of his last moments on the field at UMBC, Brewster says, "I'll remember it forever."

 

A senior team captain himself at Georgetown, Bucci was impressed on how Brewster completed his tenure at UMBC. "Season-ending injuries are difficult for any athlete to endure, and Jason was not immune to this," Bucci reflected. "His leadership evolved in 2019 to be more personal and one-on-one with members of the defense, helping to lead from the sidelines and the film room. The experience of being injured and being away from the field, helped Jason to become an even better leader in the shortened 2020 season."

 

Since that day, Jason has been to Florida, where his parents now have a second home, back to Baltimore, and is currently in San Diego. Despite the heartbreak that he and his "brothers" endured, his reflections are primarily positive and he aggressively plots his future.

 

"I've accepted it. I'm glad we had the success we did in the five-game stint. We could have gone super far. I enjoy thinking about how great we could have been," said Brewster.

 

His current "to-do" list includes:

  • Staying in shape as he awaits news from the MLL about the opening of training camp
  • Preparing for his first on-line semester at the University of Florida as part of their environmental engineering master's program. (He is interested in working on renewable energies, which grew out of his love for astronomy.)
  • Applying for jobs in a difficult economy, while working in his father's business
  • Preparing for a summer of 2021 wedding. (He proposed to Reese Moore at the tailgate following the 2019 Senior Day setback.)

 

UMBC Athletics' annual "Gritty Awards", which honors its varsity athletes, had a much different look in May of 2020. The virtual presentation focused heavily on the seniors of 2020 and many of the traditional awards were not presented. But since all student-athletes had an opportunity to return and thrive after a trying 2018-19 season, the Comeback Athlete of the Year award was reinstituted. On the men's side, the department's decision was an easy one.

 

"I tend to live in the present," Brewster said, reflecting on the last couple of years. "There were some tears. I put in a lot of work and effort and to see it come to an end like that, it was tough. But I became the man I had today because of the situations I was in."

 

Captain America, LOL!

 

Not only did Jason Brewster become the first Retriever (editor's note: unofficially, but pretty darn sure) to be tabbed a team captain on four occasions, but he captained his Valley Center squad for the three consecutive years. He achieved seven team honors in eight years on two coasts, but laughed when asked if anyone had referred to him as "Captain America."

 

"I got a good laugh out of it," he said. "I try to stay humble, not take myself too seriously. I've been very blessed and put in situations where my leadership and confidence is able to show. My teammates have always made it so easy for me."

 

He credits the coaching staff for doing a great job in instituting a Leadership Council and Big Brothers program to more evenly distribute leadership responsibilities and increase open communication.

 

"There are 50 kids each year," Brewster said. "I understand each person is different and each person reacts differently to different styles of leadership. I try to find balance and be a conscious leader, taking in everyone's emotions and abilities and be the best leader I can be for that person and for the whole team."

 

- written by Steve Levy, '85

 

You Don't Say? or Maybe You Do 

 

"What makes Jason a great leader is his fire to compete and win. He understands that in order to win, everyone on the team needs to do their part so he, as a leader, always makes sure everyone is giving 100% and isn't afraid to call someone out when they aren't. I had the privilege of playing with Jason for four years and I always knew he was in my corner as a teammate and friend."            

-Danny Isaac, '20

 

"In my eyes what made Jason such a great leader is his ability to lead with his heart. I think Jason taught my former teammates and me that being scared of making a decision should never be what stops you from making the right one. Jason always stood up for what he believed in, even if that wasn't the popular choice. Jason made a lasting impact on every person who played with him, and I know he will continue to inspire and have an impact on anyone who is a part of whatever endeavors are ahead of him in life."         

-Gunnar Schimoler, '19

 

"Jason's greatest attribute is that he cares. He is passionate about competition and excelling at the highest level. He brings that to the table every single day and has found a way to be a coach on the field. He sees things the way our coaching staff does and is able to motivate his teammates to see it the same way and commit themselves to a level that is the highest. In simple terms, when you put on our jersey the last few years, you were either going to match his level and prepare the way he prepared or he was going to make you."

-Former asst. coach Jamison Koesterer

 

"From our first day on campus when Jason was only a sophomore, he had established himself as a leader within the program and that was reflected by his teammates' votes (for captain). It is difficult to be a captain as a senior, but to be elected as a sophomore and then the subsequent three years shows Jason's character and commitment to the UMBC lacrosse program."

 

-Assistant Coach Joe Bucci

 

"Jason was immensely loyal to the standards of our team and to our blueprint. Most importantly, (he) was confident enough to take action towards his other teammates if they weren't willing to do the same. When you fuse that loyalty with a stingy, smart competitor you really create a teammate that walks the walk and will speak up to others if he believes they can do better. He truly has given his heart to this program and I am so grateful for his sacrifices and I know I will miss having him around but am eager to see his new accomplishments to come.             

 -Head Coach Ryan Moran

 

UMBC Team Captains (2017-2020)

2016-17: Jason Brewster, Max Maxwell, Ruston Souder

2017-18: Jason Brewster, Billy O'Hara, Gunnar Schimoler, John Tornabene,

2018-19: Jason Brewster, Nick Griffin, Billy Nolan, Gunnar Schimoler

2019-20: Jason Brewster, Ryan Frawley, Nick Griffin