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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The Observer

'How can I help?': Semifinal hero Brian Tevlin does it all for Notre Dame

“Versatile” is the word often used to describe Brian Tevlin. The graduate student midfielder for Notre Dame men’s lacrosse can, and has, played nearly every position on the field. He exemplifies the leadership that comes from more high-level playing experience than nearly any other college player in the country. He even plays the bagpipes for the Irish’s iconic stadium entrance.

In overtime of Notre Dame's national semifinal matchup with Virginia on Saturday — with the fate of the Irish’s season hanging in the balance — head coach Kevin Corrigan elected to put the ball in Tevlin’s hands. He delivered.

“First of all, [I] just really appreciate the trust that my coaches have in me to put the ball in my stick at the end of the game,” Tevlin said after his game-winning goal that earned the Irish a 13-12 victory and sent them to the national title game. “Those are the situations you want to be in as a player. You dream about that.”

Many players dream of those moments, but far fewer get the chance to actually live those dreams out — much less at two different schools five years apart.

As a highly touted midfield prospect from Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, New Jersey, Tevlin committed to Yale and slotted in as an instant contributor for one of the nation’s best teams in 2018. After playing in every regular season game as a true freshman, Tevlin hit his stride during the Bulldogs’ NCAA Tournament run. He scored seven points during 16 regular season games and five in the postseason. That included a crucial goal in Yale’s championship game victory over Duke.

Fast forward five years and Tevlin is in a similar position: preparing for a Memorial Day title game against the Blue Devils while playing his best lacrosse of the season when his team needs it most.

But Tevlin never expected to play at Notre Dame — let alone to be playing as a sixth-year student. In his sophomore season at Yale, the Bulldogs were a force once again. They returned to the national championship game, only to fall one win short of a repeat title after losing to Virginia. Tevlin and his teammates were motivated to return to the biggest stage and get a different outcome.

But they would have to wait three years for that opportunity. The 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The following year, the Ivy League canceled the spring sports season again.

Last year, the Bulldogs made their long-awaited return to the field. They enjoyed another strong season that ended with an NCAA quarterfinal loss to Ivy League rival Princeton. Tevlin was a standout once again, totaling 13 goals and 13 assists. But with just three full seasons under his belt, he was not ready to be done with college lacrosse. Tevlin aspired to finish his career the same way it began: as a national champion.

That’s when Notre Dame came calling.

After five years at Yale, Tevlin, alongside defender Chris Fake, left for South Bend as graduate transfers. Their experience playing for a respected program like Yale and their knowledge of the dedication and unselfishness needed for a team to compete for a national championship was part of what made Corrigan so eager to add both players to the Irish roster.

“[Tevlin] came from a good program, and I think him and Chris Fake are all-in as teammates first,” Corrigan said before championship weekend. “That says a lot about where they’ve been, where they come from and where they are now. And who they are, certainly.”

Despite his pedigree as a great leader for the Bulldogs, Tevlin understood that he was joining a veteran group that already featured a number of established upperclassmen leaders. He didn't expect anything more than acting as a final piece of the puzzle for a Notre Dame team that missed the NCAA Tournament the previous year and aspired to get back on top.

Ironically, that desire to simply fill his role and remain in the background allowed him to immediately earn the respect of his new teammates. He was named captain soon after arriving at Notre Dame.

“He’s got those natural tendencies as a leader,” Corrigan said of Tevlin. “But he didn’t come in trying to force himself on anybody, trying to walk in the room and say, ‘Hey, the new leader is here.’ He came in very humbly and really came in just with the idea of asking, ‘How can I help? Where can I help this team? You guys help me find my role.’ In doing that, he became the really humble leader that you love, and our guys recognize that. It’s been great.”

Tevlin fits in just as well on the field. He has totaled 11 goals and five assists, along with 34 ground balls, and has been impactful defensively. It takes a special skillset to be able to contribute everywhere on the field. Tevlin has it.

“It takes a mental toughness, it takes an awareness, it takes intelligence, it takes a variety of skills, the athleticism to do it, the conditioning and everything else,” Corrigan said about Tevlin’s role as a two-way midfielder. “You have to have a rare guy who can do all of those things and do them well.”

His buy-in to the team’s goals, both on and off the field, has been crucial in helping the Irish grow from a motivated group in the fall to one that made its first Final Four appearance in nearly a decade on Saturday.

“Anytime you get to this point in the season, it's special,” Corrigan said after the Virginia game. “What I do look at is the context of from when this team became a team in the fall until now, and I've never enjoyed coaching a group of guys more because of their focus, their commitment to what we're doing. Their all-in attitude, their love for each other, how hard [they work].”

So with the season on the line, needing just one more goal to beat Virginia, it may have come as a surprise to some that the ball went to Tevlin. He isn't one of the household names on Notre Dame's roster. But for Corrigan, it was an easy decision to trust someone that has done everything possible to earn it. And Tevlin executing the final play and scoring the clinching goal despite heavy pressure from the Cavalier defense? That was no surprise.

“We had some action set up and started with [Tevlin]. And he read it perfectly,” Corrigan said. “I think it was a great read by him and a great shot, because the [defender] was draped on him. It was really a terrific play by him.”

Irish graduate student attacker Griffin Westlin, a high school teammate of Tevlin, described the moment of watching the final shot ripple the back of the net on Saturday.

“It was almost like scoring the goal myself, just the happiness that I felt for him, the smile on my face. There’s nobody who deserves it more,” Westlin said. “I was just telling him that I loved him to death and I’m so happy that he decided to come to South Bend.”

Tevlin is undoubtedly happy with that decision as well. But one challenge remains: a matchup with No. 1 Duke to decide the national champion. The Irish don’t expect much to change in terms of their game plan. They’ve been building toward this moment for months and are ready to execute on the biggest stage.

“It's just [a moment when] we continue to focus and continue to do our stuff and trust our system because it works, and it's worked all year,” Tevlin said of Monday's title game. “And we have a ton of faith in it and a ton of faith in our coaches to put us in the best situation.”

If that situation turns out to be one that calls for a big-time play in a key moment, expect Tevlin to be at the forefront for the Irish, regardless of where it's needed on the field. He’s been there before and he’s ready to suit up in Blue and Gold one more time.

“It's a long season,” Tevlin said. “Another opportunity to play with your brothers is obviously all you could ask for.”