Joe Cummings’ Maryland lacrosse teammates streamed back to the locker room on a late March afternoon seemingly ruined with a loss.
Not for Cummings. Win or lose, the attackman had a promise to fulfill. He spoke with a Fellowship of Christian Athletes group that attended the game, imparting insight just as he received it in similar settings while growing up.
It was, unquestionably, a chance to learn something and to share even more, important values for a man who does not harbor run-of-the-mill immediate postgraduate ambitions.
Some of the seniors in this year’s final four probably will dabble in the world of finance. Maybe law school awaits a few. Cummings is eager to start an extended discipleship in Annapolis with the Fellowship, a Christian organization.
“I really have never had the opportunity to be with a group of people who are totally invested about learning about Jesus,” Cummings said. “To have nine months to just solely focus on that before I start the rest of my life is something I’m really excited about.”
Before then, the honorable mention All-America pick will close out his college career within the next week in Foxborough, Mass. Cummings leads unseeded Maryland (11-5) in goals with 30 entering Saturday’s NCAA semifinal against third-seeded Duke (15-4).
The Terrapins’ place in the final four is a bit of a surprise. Many of the significant contributors from last year’s national finalists graduated, taking with them talent and raucous personalities.
Instead of accepting Maryland might take a step back, Cummings impressed coach John Tillman with a belief the Terps could gradually improve and produce a successful season. To do so would mean Cummings segueing into a more prominent place in the team’s hierarchy.
“Joe is a guy who can be in the room and can be comfortable with that,” Tillman said. “He’s OK. There are some guys who are naturally going to be the dominant alpha males in the room. Ryan Young was like that. He was going to be that central figure. That was just him. Now with all those personalities gone, it’s kind of fallen to him. What’s great about Joe is he doesn’t need it, but he’s fine with it.”
Still, he’s happy to scatter attention to all corners of the locker room. Even after scoring the go-ahead goal with six seconds left in an opening-round defeat of Lehigh, Cummings deferred credit to everyone else on the roster. His philosophy: “It’s never a one-man show.”
It’s a common outlook for the Terps, who often reflect the understated-though-resilient manner of their most experienced teammate.
“He knew he had to step up into a bigger role, and he’s definitely taken that superstar spotlight without making it a superstar spotlight,” long pole Jesse Bernhardt said. “He knows sometimes we’re going to rely on him to make a big play, but he doesn’t let it get to him. I think that’s Joe.”
It also meant more responsibilities beyond activities exclusively involving the Terps, even if they didn’t fit perfectly with a personality uninterested in generating attention.
“I really don’t like being in the spotlight,” Cummings said. “I’m a pretty low-key person, and I just like to go with the flow. Being interviewed about myself is kind of unnerving. I don’t like doing it, but I guess it’s another thing you have to learn about yourself when you go through that.”
Cummings is something of a lacrosse chameleon, and he embraced versatility when he arrived at Maryland. His career could double as a checklist for nearly every offensive role: extra-man specialist, starting midfielder, second-line midfielder to provide balance and finally a starting attackman.
All along, he soaked up knowledge of how the game looked from different places on the field. It’s made him especially difficult to contain as the Terps’ top finisher this year.
“He’s probably not the fastest guy, he’s not the strongest guy and he doesn’t shoot the ball hardest. But you go against Hopkins and they put Tucker Durkin on him … ” Maryland assistant Ryan Moran said. “They know his game is more cerebral than athletic, but for someone who isn’t all those things — fastest, strongest, hardest shot — he just knows how to put himself in position to be successful.”
That goes beyond lacrosse. Cummings isn’t quite sure what he’ll do long-term, though he’s certain the next year will be satisfying.
Cummings agreed to the Fellowship internship in March, and he’ll move into a house with six like-minded men in the fall. There will be plenty to learn, just as there is nearly everything Cummings undertakes.
“The questions people ask me about this opportunity, I don’t really know the answers of them — which is really kind of exciting,” Cummings said. “But I just know I’ll be in good hands.”