There was substantial weight on Spring-Ford senior midfielder Danny Cassidy’s shoulders this spring. After huge roster turnover, including a handful of Division I players, outsiders believed the Rams’ run as the gold standard in the Pioneer Athletic Conference and as a District 1 contender was going to take a hit.
Cassidy welcomes the weight, though. He’s been placing it on himself as a player and teammate for years.
And as he found out off the field this spring, a wait can be well worth it.
With likely the most dominant two-way player in PAC boys lacrosse history leading the way in confident voice and relentless play, Spring-Ford’s supposed fall changed course in the form of a third straight undefeated PAC regular season, a seventh consecutive PAC championship and the program’s long-awaited first berth to the PIAA Championships.
“I knew we lost some guys who started three or four years so I knew there were going to be a lot of guys coming in and they might be nervous, a little bit unsure of themselves so I knew I had to take greater responsibility and step up to give them the confidence to maybe score the first goal to help the group relax and get it going,” Cassidy said.
His team-high 61 goals and 19 assists were the engine to the Rams’ attack while his physical defense routinely shut down opponents’ top counterparts, earning Cassidy All-Area Player of the Year honors and a second-straight spot on the Mercury All-Area first team. The Notre Dame commit follows a long line of Spring-Ford players to earn the spot, including Liam Hare (2016), Zach Hare (2015), Matt Messerle (2014) and Paul Major (2012-13). It’s Cassidy’s second All-Area first team nod as a senior following his selection as a defensive back in football last fall.
“He’s an awesome kid. He is one of the best,” Spring-Ford coach Kevin Donnelly said. “He has always been a student of the game, a great student in the classroom and an all-around awesome kid. Even since he was a freshman he conducted himself in a different way that you knew he was going to be special.
“When we gave him the Most Outstanding Senior for our banquet, in the writeup I said he’s ‘the best all-around lacrosse player’ we’ve ever had. And I think that’s true. He’s as capable offensively as he is defensively.”
The Rams’ 19-4 season included signature wins over eventual PIAA 3A champion Avon Grove (9-8 in 2OT on April 1), Owen J. Roberts in the PAC championship (9-5 on May 11) – where his teammates put his weight on their shoulders by hoisting Cassidy with the PAC championship plaque in the postgame celebration – and Haverford (10-7 on May 25) in a PIAA play-in game.
Cassidy must be overly thrilled with such a season and making states for the first time, right? To think that would be to not understand how driven Cassidy is.
“I’m happy and it’s great (to have qualified for states), but at the same time I wish we went farther and I wish we did it last year, too,” he said. “As good as the team was this year, we were just as good last year. And the fact we didn’t make states, it makes me think, ‘What were we missing?’ You look back and you get disappointed.”
The mentality that allowed Cassidy to help Spring-Ford achieve such success in his four years (19-3 in 2014, 21-3 in 2015, 21-3 in 2016) is the same one that allows him to quickly and without difficulty cite all 10 losses of his Rams career while looking back on his high school career.
That isn’t to say Cassidy can’t be pleased though. He certainly was with the progression of his less-experienced teammates as the season wore on.
“Coming into the season I was actually quite confident in our team because they all worked really, really hard. They might not be going to Richmond or St. Joe’s or Monmouth or Michigan but they are very talented players and they worked very hard to become that,” Cassidy said. “We’re a very individually-motivated and team-focused group. We knew we lost a lot of guys so a lot of the younger guys stepped up and started playing really well. That worked out very well for us by going as far as we’ve ever gone.”
Attending Notre Dame and playing lacrosse for the Fighting Irish, where Cassidy will head in the fall, doesn’t just please him. It’s a dream come true – albeit a late-breaking one that only came together on May 12, the Friday before the PAC postseason began.
Early in his high school career Cassidy didn’t receive significant college interest to the point where he was unsure if college lacrosse was in his future.
“Going into my junior year I had gotten no interest. I was like, “I guess I’m not going to be playing college lacrosse,” he said. “Ever since I started playing, a lot of people didn’t think I would be that good. I wasn’t some Division I recruit from a young age. I committed my senior year, which in lacrosse is really, really late.
“For me, I thought, ‘People don’t think I’m good. I’m going to have to prove to them I am. I’m going to have to show people that I work hard and I’m going to outwork you. I might not have been as talented two years ago, but this year I am.’ I’ve been coming from that place the past four years to try to show people I am as good as any other guy out there.”
Colleges gained more interest after Cassidy, who plays his club lacrosse with Big 4 lacrosse, made the Philadelphia team for the Under Armour Underclassmen Tournament in June 2016 and eventually committed to Boston University in February 2017.
He was compelled still to apply to his ‘dream school,’ Notre Dame, having grown up in a family full of South Bend supporters and alumni, and was placed on the wait list.
He spent quite a few months coming to terms that his dream wasn’t meant to be.
“It was hard realizing you might not be good enough to play somewhere. But at the same time, it was, ‘Let’s move on.’ Because I wanted to play lacrosse in college and once I committed (to Boston University) my drive was to show everybody that I am a Division I lacrosse player and I am as good if not better than most of these kids.
“That’s what I wanted to show through the last couple years, that despite the fact I’m not going to Notre Dame or wherever, I am good enough to go there and you’re going to wish I did.”
Then the unexpected happened: Cassidy’s wait on the waiting list was over. As the spring regular season turned to the postseason, he gained admittance to Notre Dame.
“I sat down and thought, ‘Wow, I have one of my dreams at the fingertips. But I also have this awesome school in Boston University. What do I do?’” he said. “I thought about it a lot and I decided that I had to take the risk and chase my dream.”
Cassidy contacted the Notre Dame coaches to inquire about walking on to the team.
A day later, after doing some research and reaching out to Philadelphia-area contacts, the Irish staff was instead offering Cassidy a spot on the team, much to his disbelief.
“It was very exciting, I couldn’t even believe,” Cassidy said. “It was so hard for it to happen and for it to work out that perfectly and come true is honestly crazy.”
The luck of the Irish may be a real thing. But among the many reasons Cassidy is joining the Fighting Irish and put together the Spring-Ford career he did, luck isn’t one of them.