Garber Legacy Continues In Major League Lacrosse
Aug. 1, 2007
"I wasn't sure where I would go in the draft." Brett Garber said. "By the time the 38th pick came around and Boston had it, I thought this could be me. And it was. I would've been happy anywhere, but being able to stay in the area and play for my father is awesome. I'm really happy about it."
Thursday, May 31, marked the beginning of a new chapter in the Garber Lacrosse Legacy. That evening, Brett Garber was drafted by the Boston Cannons in the fourth round (38th overall) of the Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Draft. The UMass product is reunited with his father Ted, who is in his first year as assistant coach for the Cannons. Brett and Ted hope to make the late Dick Garber proud and carry the "Garber Gorilla" tradition to the MLL.
The Garber legacy started in 1955. At that time, Richard F. Garber began his tenure as UMass Head Lacrosse Coach. He would stay at the helm of the Minutemen until 1990. Over his 36 years, he compiled a 300-141-3 record for a remarkable .679 winning percentage. He won three National Coach of the Year awards and won New England Coach of the Year 14 times. In 1992, Upper Boyden Field was renamed Richard F. Garber Field in his honor. The Minutemen lacrosse team still plays there today. The "Father of UMass Lacrosse" was inducted into the UMass Hall of Fame in 1997.
After the 1990 season, Dick's son Ted took over the reins at UMass. There was a lot of pressure following in his father's footsteps, but Ted had the right mindset. "During the interview, everyone kept asking, `How are you going to replace your dad?' (He was in) four halls of fame and was the all-time winningest coach in the game. I felt, who else was going to replace him? I had been around him and the school a long time. I knew how he treated his players and kept the game in perspective. I was bringing that same type of philosophy to the program." Ted got the job, leading the team to a 37-17 record over his four-year tenure.
Brett, the third generation Garber, was always around lacrosse, but didn't start playing organized ball until 1994. "My father coached at UNH. Growing up, I always had a stick in my hand, messing around. In 1994, my dad got the head coaching job at Avon Old Farms in Connecticut. I started playing lacrosse, and that's when I really started playing."
High school was the first time Brett was coached by his father. Ted had the pleasure of coaching Brett at Avon Old Farms. As Brett said, it was an unbelievable experience. "It was awesome. It wasn't like I was his son out there. He treated me like every other player. Throughout high school, he taught me to always work hard, keep your mind focused, and do the right thing."
It was evident that Brett was suited to play collegiate lacrosse. He tallied an impressive 177 points on 100 goals and 77 assists over his time at Avon. He was named team captain for his final two seasons and was team MVP as a senior. He also garnered All-League, All-New England, and All-America honors.
When deciding what college to attend, Brett wanted to make sure he explored all options. After his first visit to UMass, he fell in love. "As I went through high school, I got contacted by coaches who were recruiting me. UMass was my first recruiting trip. The moment I went, I knew I wanted to go there."
In his junior year, UMass did something no other team had done in school history: advance to the National Semifinals. In the Quarterfinals against Hofstra, UMass came from 10-5 down with less than nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the score and force overtime. Fittingly, Brett fed freshman Jim Connolly, who put home the game-winner in the extra session.
The team ended up making the National Championship Game before bowing to a high-powered Virginia team. As Brett looked back at the experience, he realized how much of a blur it really was. "When it did happen, when we beat Hofstra, so many emotions were running through my head. I was so proud for the program, for coach (Greg) Cannella, for all the guys, and for my grandfather who built the program. It's hard to even put in words. I felt privileged to be part of it. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."
Brett's breakout season was in 2007, finishing second on the team in goals and points. The highlight was on April 28, when the Minutemen hosted the Syracuse Orange on Senior Day. It was extra special for Brett, playing on his grandfather's field for the final time. As Brett explained, a bit of irony occurred the night before the game when he visited his grandfather's grave. "The day before, everyone went to my grandfather's grave to talk to him and remember him. Later, as we got into the car, his song came on. That's my lucky song that I listen to before every game. It was a weird thing. It was really really emotional for me. I knew right then and there that we were going to win."
UMass was able to pull out the victory in an intense game, 9-7, which ended Syracuse's run of making the NCAA Tournament at 24 consecutive seasons. Brett is glad he was able to get the win for his grandfather. "The whole day, being able to get that last one for my grandfather, for the program, for everyone who has ever been a part of this, was really special for us, especially the team."
Looking ahead to playing professionally in the MLL, Brett knows it will be a challenge. It hit him at the first practice he attended. "As I went to the first practice last week, you realize you're playing with the best players in the world and are no longer one of the top dogs. I've got to fight for everything and I have to work hard if I want to get on the field, because everybody is just as good or even better than me."
Brett will be coached by his father for the first time since high school, only this time as an assistant coach. Just like in high school, Ted is treating Brett as any other player, but is looking for big things from him, "As I told all the new guys on Boston, you've all had success, just do what you do best. All the midfielders get challenged one on one defensively; I know he's worked on that part of his game. He can definitely shoot with any of those guys out there. I told him to go out there, be a really good shooter and be ready to dump the ball off.
When asked about the possibility of becoming the third Garber to coach at UMass, Brett believes it is a possibility. He has accepted a job with Atlantic Sportswear, so it's not in his immediate future.
"I love the idea of coaching," Brett said. "I've been working camps and working with my father. I think one day I will get into it. If I end up at UMass, it will be twice as nice. If I get the opportunity, it will be really special."
Although Brett is taking a different route than his father and grandfather, Ted agrees it could happen. "He's not jumping into coaching and teaching like my dad and I did early in our careers. He'd be a really good coach. He has coached some of the junior teams around Avon and done a great job. He has a good head for it."
That's looking into the future. For right now, Brett is focused on playing for the Boston Cannons. He hopes he can make an impact more than just on the field; he hopes he can influence the emergence of the sport. "Long term, I want to be a player who impacts the game a lot and helps it grow. I want to be someone whom little kids look up to as someone who works hard and plays his heart out on the field."
(Justin Lafleur is a correspondent for Major League Lacrosse. This feature story was not subject to the approval of Major League Lacrosse.)