Newly named captain Ryan Izzo set to anchor UMass men’s lacrosse’s midfield after ACL recovery
Ryan Izzo ran a toss sweep from the 23-yard line to the short side of the field against Weymouth on Thanksgiving Day, 2009. He cut back across the gridiron with five minutes to play, then broke a few tackles up the middle, bound for the right pylon. Touchdown, 77 yards. It was the final play of his high school football career.
A senior fullback at Walpole High School, Izzo set the Massachusetts career points record at 722, and his 6,316 rushing yards were good for No. 2 in the record books. But he never received a Division I football offer. Izzo instead audibled to lacrosse, a sport he’s played since fourth grade. His first choice? The University of Massachusetts.
The redshirt junior earned New England Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association All-New England and Colonial Athletic Association All-Conference honors with the Minutemen last year. He fought back from an anterior cruciate ligament tear his freshman preseason to anchor the short stick defensive midfield.
“Nothing has ever been given to me and that’s the way the program here is run at UMass,” Izzo said. “We’ve preached that in the past couple years, the hard hat mentality. The guys really want to work hard.”
The hard hat isn’t just a metaphor for the 5-foot-9, 185-pounder. He’s worn one each of the last five summers working alongside his brother Adam, 33, who founded North Attleboro-based Izzo Construction.
Izzo said his competitiveness and belief that “nothing is impossible” are traits that “trickled down” to him from his brother. The two were always close, but forged a stronger bond after their parents, Ron and Susan Sinclaire, separated when Ryan was 6.
“My brother’s been the inspiration in my life,” said Izzo, a building and construction technology major. “He’s always been the one coming to my games, no matter where they are, back in high school, middle school. I couldn’t have asked for more in terms of how I wanted to grow up and who I wanted to strive to be.”
UMass coach Greg Cannella, entering his 20th season, named Izzo a captain to start the year. He called his player a self-motivated leader, who commands his teammates’ respect on the field and in the gym.
Izzo (52 ground balls, 10 caused turnovers in 2013) bench presses 300 pounds, squats over 400 and holds the team record for the 300-meter sprint. He is working to claim the fastest time on the 400-meter next.
“Guys look at him and go, ‘Holy cow,’” Cannella said. “‘What do you say if that guy tells me to do something?’ You do it. He brings that kind of element to the team, that fire.”
Walpole football coach Barry Greener said Izzo always led by example as the Rebels’ captain. His work ethic didn’t wane, even after winning a Division 2 Super Bowl in 2008.
Izzo also captained Walpole lacrosse to a D2 State Championship in 2009. The All-American had 38 goals and 16 assists that year, while winning more than 60 percent of face-offs taken.
“He had a lot of pride in what he did,” Greener said. “I can’t remember him ever taking a play off. Everything was 100 miles per hour. I wish I could get another one like him, but I’ll be long retired before someone like that shows up.”
Senior goaltender Reed Goodhue, a co-captain for the Minutemen, said Izzo’s return to top athletic form following a serious injury is a case study in resiliency. He saw the recovery process firsthand as Izzo’s sophomore year roommate.
Both players were competing for starting minutes at their respective positions and became close friends based on a similar “toughness” factor. They often discussed the workings of their team and what could be done differently to maximize success.
“It’s kind of funny,” Goodhue said. “Our discussions over the years, without knowing it, we’ve been preparing ourselves for this duty as captains. We’re very intense players and want our team to strive for victory at all times.”
The latter sentiment on chasing personal success translates to Izzo’s life away from lacrosse, whether it’s competing in the gym with Adam, who just started CrossFit training, or spending free time watching movies with Evangeline, his 4-year-old sister.
Izzo hopes to influence his youngest sister in the same way that Adam helped shape him. His immediate goal, however, is to recreate the success of his club’s breakout 2012 season, which saw a 15-1 overall mark.
“I took it with a grain of salt,” Izzo said of last year’s 7-8 finish. He admits the team underachieved, but said it puts UMass in a welcomed underdog role this season.
“When there’s a challenge, I always expect to finish first,” he said. “They can expect from me to give my 100 percent every day.”
Peter Cappiello can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @petecapps.