- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

Jake Byrne has picked up a few things during his four years at Johns Hopkins — a give-and-take relationship with lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala not many others enjoy and a national championship two years ago among them.

Then there’s the dog costume designed for a 7-year-old in which Byrne occasionally will parade around campus. It barely sinks past his shoulders and is torn just to get it that far, making a set of overalls from his family farm an essential part of the senior’s eye-opening look. Byrne’s face is crumpled into a small hole as he strolls around, adding to the absurdity.

“Everybody is walking by and they’re going ‘What is this kid doing?’ and he waves at them and says ‘Hey, how you doing?’ ” senior long pole Brendan Skakandi said. “Jake doesn’t care what people think about him. He never has and I don’t think he ever will.”

Welcome to the wacky world of Byrne, a one-man comedy show the third-seeded Blue Jays (10-4) have used to keep things light as they head into Saturday’s NCAA tournament quarterfinal against sixth-seeded Georgetown (12-2) in Princeton, N.J.

Some of Byrne’s exploits are legendary among his teammates. Like during a lightning delay in the 2005 semifinals when he rushed into the locker room and cranked up a Madonna song on the sound system. Or the time he wore his overalls to practice on a cold day, much to Pietramala’s chagrin.

Then there’s the bowtie, which Byrne has worn for his media guide photo the last two years and has been known to take on road trips as well.

“Coach always gives me [stuff] for going to Landon because he’s from Long Island and he’s tough and apparently the Landon guys aren’t as tough,” said Byrne, the first Hopkins lacrosse player to come from the Landon School. “The picture is just something you try to get away with. It’s really just aimed at Coach Pietramala because he hates it so.”

The two make one of the sport’s oddest pairings. Pietramala is intense and old-school, with both an intimidating glare and a work ethic few can match. Yet for all of his playfulness, Byrne, a two-year captain, spends as much time working on his shooting as anyone.

Pietramala knew all along Byrne was a talented player but was surprised by his personality, and even Byrne admits he was worried about saying the wrong thing whenever they would talk during his recruiting. But it didn’t take long for the coach to learn about Byrne.

“I never realized through the recruiting process that he was such a character — never,” Pietramala said. “He was polite, almost quiet to an extent. On his visits he was quiet. He got here and he was the life of the party. I just didn’t realize how humorous and witty he is.”

Byrne remained productive throughout his career and will best be remembered for his game-tying goal with 1.4 seconds left in the 2005 semifinals to keep Hopkins’ hopes alive for its eventual national title.

He toned down his shenanigans as his career progressed, but Pietramala believes those moments of levity are “invaluable” for the rest of the team. So is his calming influence on the rest of the offense.

“I think I’ve learned to be a little more serious,” Byrne said. “Coach Petro rubbed off on me a little bit. That’s what I’m better at today than I was back then, being able to control things and [think] ‘Should I do that? No, it probably wouldn’t be good.’ ”

Added Pietramala: “He knows when I’m serious and when he can pull the trigger and he knows the right times. I’m just very focused and he’ll blurt out something and you can’t help but laugh and say ‘Well, OK, the timing was good there.’ He has an impeccable knack for sensing that.”

Byrne enters the quarterfinals with a career-high 24 goals and is coming off his first back-to-back hat tricks. But his attitude might be his greatest contribution over the last four years.

“He crosses some boundaries that a lot of guys would never imagine trying to cross,” attackman Kevin Huntley said. “It’s all in good fun, and I think Coach realizes that. It makes things interesting, and it’s a special thing to watch because I don’t think guys like him come around very often.”

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