Less than two months separated Ed Douglas and graduation from Duke. He was wrapping up a degree in biomedical engineering and wasn’t sure he would return the next year for his final season of lacrosse eligibility.
The suspension of the Blue Devils’ program last spring in the face of rape accusations prompted a quick shift in thinking.
“It changed from ‘Should I?’ or ‘Would I?’ to ‘How do I get back?’ ” Douglas said.
Douglas was hardly a recognizable name amid Duke’s galaxy of stars two seasons ago, but as much as anyone else, he bound the Blue Devils together through a trying year and helped them earn a No. 1 seed and a date with No. 4 Cornell in Saturday’s NCAA semifinals in Baltimore.
As the Blue Devils worked to ensure the continuation of their program, Douglas was playing a vital role as a team liaison. After the team was reinstated, he was a nearly unanimous choice as a team captain.
“He’s probably the smartest kid I’ve ever met,” defenseman Tony McDevitt said. “He practically saved us at one point. All the different messages we had to send to [university] president [Richard] Brodhead and the media, they went through our lawyers, and they went through Ed Douglas. He knows what he’s doing.”
He is also perfectly suited for a role never quite as crucial to any lacrosse program: team spokesman.
Beyond the legal ramifications of the false accusations, there also were powerful perceptions created throughout the circus. Duke’s players were frequently portrayed as out-of-control, immature hooligans, an image that would be difficult to erase even if the charges were dropped.
It made Douglas — an erudite, articulate graduate student who naturally drops words like “interlocutor” and “tangential” into conversations with reporters — the perfect public representative for the Blue Devils (16-2).
“He truly is the quintessential student-athlete,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “He’s sensitive, thoughtful, interested in world issues. It’s just what Duke is about. You couldn’t have planned it any better.”
There was the slight matter of determining how to stick around for the Blue Devils’ comeback season. Douglas found it with a one-year international relations program, which he hopes can help land him a job at a D.C.-area think tank.
Douglas’ greatest payoff has come with the team. He and co-captain Matt Danowski faced dozens of cameras when the team returned to practice last fall and at the start of the season in February. They also helped shepherd their teammates back from an abyss of uncertainty.
“It’s been an unbelievable learning experience,” Douglas said. “For Matt and me both, it’s been a challenge at times to stand in front of everyone and deal with a lot of different questions and different issues about the program. It’s also been very rewarding. The opportunity to speak for and stand for such a great group of guys has been great for both of us.”
It had the potential to be overwhelming for anyone, especially a player who received little attention earlier in his career. He walked on as an attackman in 2004, then moved to short-stick defensive midfield — the sport’s most unheralded position — the next year.
Despite the added responsibility, Douglas remained a stabilizing off-field presence and also has 17 groundballs for the Blue Devils.
“He really does a good job of realizing the big picture and not becoming too enthralled in any aspect of it on the field situations or the whole media blitz that has really gone on,” defenseman Casey Carroll said. “His maturity has enabled him to just handle it as professionally as possible.”
Douglas considers the last 14 months one of the longest lessons of his life, filled with both positive and negative aspects. But the chance to finish his career in his hometown with a shot at a national title has made a decision he never regretted even more fulfilling.
“Weighing the costs and benefits of playing another year, this is certainly an extreme benefit,” Douglas said. “I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to be back here.”