- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2007

BALTIMORE — The familiar voice of a growing game approaches a restaurant cashier when the man behind him asks a question no doubt heard dozens of times before.

“You’re Quint, right?” the man prods before adding that his son plays lacrosse at Cornell.

Right he is.

On a larger scale, Quint Kessenich isn’t identifiable by a single name like a diva or a Brazilian soccer player. But in the tight-knit sport of lacrosse, he is instantly recognized and associated with the game for his work on virtually every level.

He calls many of the big college games, has covered Major League Lacrosse since its inception in 2001 and is an assistant coach at Baltimore high school power Boys’ Latin.

There’s also a burgeoning career in other sports, everything from providing play-by-play at the McDonald’s All-American game in March to sideline work on syndicated college football broadcasts to a reporting role at Triple Crown races.

He remains linked to lacrosse and is probably the sport’s most polarizing figure among fans. Few lack an opinion of him or mind sharing it either on a message board or in an e-mail to Kessenich himself.

He has called every NCAA final four since 1995 and is arguably the Billy Packer of lacrosse. But such a position carries with it an ambassadorial role, especially for a man whose career is so intertwined with the game’s surge in popularity in the last 15 years.

“Everyone in lacrosse has a rooting interest,” Kessenich says. “I don’t get any feedback from anybody that doesn’t have a reason to root for a team. There are very few neutral fans. It’s ‘My son plays for Cornell’ or ‘I played for Georgetown Prep.’ The lines of battle are clearly drawn. I try to bring this whole thing together like, ‘Hey, this sport is going places.’ ”

The slow rise

Didn’t see Kessenich’s evolution from a star goalie at Johns Hopkins (1987-90) to a utilityman for ESPN’s myriad networks coming? That’s OK. After all, sitting in human resources at Citibank in a self-described “Office Space job” isn’t a typical launching pad for a broadcasting career.

He still found and created opportunities. He was part of a three-man radio booth for Johns Hopkins games in 1991, then did a five-game package on the old regional cable outlet Home Team Sports the next two years.

“I was that miserable guy who every weekend would go do my lacrosse game and be happy,” Kessenich says. “Then when I started doing more and more lacrosse, I started thinking, ‘Man, it would be cool if I could do this all year long.’ ”

It took a while, although a one-game audition with ESPN for an indoor lacrosse game at the Boston Garden led to more regular work. In the interim, he augmented his broadcasting with a job writing and producing corporate videos.

Kessenich soon became a fixture at the college level, sometimes rankling an audience unaccustomed to either criticism or his blunt approach.

“If you’re a fan of Virginia or Syracuse, you can look at Quint and say, ‘He’s a Hopkins homer,’ ” says Johns Hopkins assistant Bill Dwan, who played with Kessenich in college. “The people around here, they don’t think he’s a Hopkins homer. They think he’s the opposite. That’s what’s neat. He definitely brings out an emotion.”

The move to full-time broadcasting finally arrived in 2000. Through his MLL work, Kessenich met a producer who also worked on ESPN’s horse racing coverage. His racing knowledge led to opportunities at Triple Crown races and the chance to hone his talents.

He has since branched into a half-dozen sports outside of lacrosse and was hired full-time at ESPN in 2004. While anyone can see his on-air work, his eagerness to spend time learning other nuances of the business helped him thrive.

“He has a very unique skill set,” says John Vassallo, ESPNU’s senior coordinating producer. “He’s extremely bright, and that certainly helps. He has got a sense of what works in production. Our business silos you … [but] he’s always possessed a tremendous feel for the production business. He knows what works and communicates with producers and directors. One of the reasons he’s so successful is because he understands other people’s jobs.”

The emergence of ESPNU, which launched in 2005, also helps. Vassallo says the nascent network, which reaches 9 million homes, permits some experimentation — such as Kessenich providing play-by-play for college basketball games — that wouldn’t happen on ESPN or ESPN2, which reach more than 10 times as many homes.

Kessenich called 10 basketball games last season, including events at Comcast Center and Verizon Center, with crowds dwarfing a typical lacrosse game.

“Those Maryland-Clemson and Georgetown-West Virginia games were off the charts,” Kessenich says. “I’m sitting there during the anthem, and I’m like, ‘I’m about to announce this game? Are you kidding me?’ How many people get to go to work and get that excited?”

‘Voice of lacrosse’

Boys’ Latin coach Bob Shriver, who has worked with Kessenich since 1992, calls his assistant “the voice of lacrosse.” Yet despite his direct on-air personality and clearly delineated opinions, the recognition isn’t always easy to handle.

“My sister always laughs because she knows I’m the most uncomfortable person in the room. Always,” Kessenich says. “I’m shy. At homecoming [at Johns Hopkins last month], people come up to you and say hi, and it’s difficult. It’s not natural for me to be like that, but I’m learning.”

His preparation, though, is superb. Kessenich will spend four hours each morning scouring the Internet for relevant stories, printing them out and tucking them in a folder for each team throughout the season.

At the start of last month’s Johns Hopkins-Navy game, Kessenich quickly pointed out that Johns Hopkins needed to get close to a split of faceoffs while Navy would have to improve its shaky clearing to win. The Blue Jays dominated the draws, while the Midshipmen struggled to move the ball across midfield as Johns Hopkins eked out a one-goal victory.

“I think Quint holds us coaches accountable for things, and he also holds players accountable,” Maryland coach Dave Cottle says. “Us as coaches, we want to hold him accountable. He analyzes a game before the game is played like a coach, and that’s what really separates him.”

Adds Dwan: “He’s still that goalie, analytical and smart. He’s one of the smarter guys I played with, and I played with some smart guys and have been around the sport quite a lot. He’s very bright, and he understands the game, but I think he still does a good job of coming across on TV not getting too in-depth and not losing people.”

Kessenich’s criticisms have softened as he has adopted a philosophy of emphasizing the positive of each play. But it hasn’t stopped the usual stream of e-mails and comments from fans, which he relishes because they show people care about his work.

He is in the midst of arguably his busiest stretch of the year. He will report from the Preakness Stakes today, then provide analysis tomorrow for two NCAA lacrosse quarterfinals in Annapolis.

Next weekend will bring the final four in Baltimore, an event at which Kessenich feels an especially large responsibility to help grow the game.

“Lacrosse is going here, with or without me,” Kessenich says. “I choose to look at the best in the game and I have visions of lacrosse a lot bigger than it is right now. There’s so many people who want to try to control or have a part of the sport. I’m more like, ‘Let’s throw water and a lot of fertilizer on this thing.’ ”

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