Kevin Cassese got choked up twice during his presentation at the US Lacrosse Convention in January.

Speaking to a ballroom full of eager youth and high coaches on the topic of developing and sustaining a successful lacrosse program, the Lehigh coach projected a photo of the whiteboard in the Mountain Hawks’ locker room after they lost to North Carolina in the 2013 NCAA tournament. In all caps and erasable black marker, someone had left a message.

THIS WAS THE BEST TEAM/FAMILY I’VE EVER BEEN A PART OF. THANKS TO ALL THE PLAYERS & COACHES (AND TRAINERS, STAFF, ETC.) WHO MADE IT POSSIBLE. I’LL NEVER FORGET ALL THE GREAT TIMES WE HAD. I LOVE YOU ALL & AM GONNA MISS THIS SQUAD LIKE CRAZY.

LOVE,
#35

“Number 35 is a young man named Nate Hunt,” Cassese told the crowd. “Nate Hunt is a walk-on from Minnesota. He came to us, showed up on our doorstep and decided that he wanted to make a run for our team. Nate Hunt made the team, and he became a leader within our program. He became a part of our family. I’m going to talk a lot about family today.”

Cassese continued to talk for more than an hour on numerous topics — like why he thought Lehigh was a “sleeping giant” when he came there after the 2007 season and how he reconstructed the program, built a culture, honored historic traditions and established new ones.

“If you get that buy-in from your players, if you get that buy-in from your people — support staff and others — then you got a family,” Cassese concluded. “And when you have a family, you have people that care about each other at a deep level, the scoreboard will take care of itself.”

Moments later, Cassese, a Long Island native, got choked up for the second time, when he saw just how big the lacrosse family really is and the width of the sport’s reach. People lined up to meet him afterward and ask questions. He met coaches from Minnesota, Maine, Florida, California, Seattle and Canada.

“I was just amazed by the amount of people in attendance, and more notably about where they were coming from to learn, listen and engage,” Cassese said recently while recalling the experience. “That’s one thing US Lacrosse does at a really high level to help grow the sport, to quench the thirst of those who are looking for more lacrosse knowledge, more lacrosse information, drills, skills and experiences.”

 

Cassese’s experience with US Lacrosse dates pretty much back to the national governing body’s inception in 1998, when he was a teenager. The following year, he played for the gold medal-winning U.S. U19 men’s team in Australia.

“That was the first time I had left the country,” Cassese said.

Three years later, Cassese was back in Australia, this time with a young U.S. senior men’s team that was without Major League Lacrosse players. Cassese came home with his second gold medal.

After a stellar college career at Duke, the three-time All-American midfielder paved his way into the coaching ranks, with stints as an assistant at Stony Brook and Duke before landing as the head coach at Lehigh. He continued to excel as a player with MLL’s Rochester Rattlers, Philadelphia Barrage and Boston Cannons. He played for two more U.S. teams, leading Team USA to the gold medal as co-captain in 2010, and served as an assistant coach to Richie Meade last summer in Denver.

“US Lacrosse has been a huge part of my life, and really shaped who I am as a lacrosse player and lacrosse coach, but also as a man,” said Cassese, who turned 33 earlier this month and is married with two children in Bethlehem, Pa. “I look at US Lacrosse as an incredible vehicle for learning — including for a person like me, being involved at the highest level internationally both as a player and coach, to be able to learn from people that are involved at US Lacrosse and represent them.”

If US Lacrosse is the head of the lacrosse household, you might just say Kevin Cassese is its favorite son.