Coming Home

Every Texas kid dreams of running onto the field with the Dallas Star as a pro athlete. Bryce Wasserman is fulfilling that dream through lacrosse.

By

May 30, 2019

Many kids dream of being just like their favorite sports star. Growing up outside of Dallas, kids in the area who dreamed of being pro sports stars dreamed about being football players. They dreamed about running out of that tunnel with that Dallas star at midfield. After all, football is king in Texas. But lacrosse?  When I was a kid you’d be hard pressed to find many people who even knew what lacrosse was.

And for a while, I was one of those kids: Football in the fall and baseball in the spring (which is what most football players did in the off-season). In sixth grade I was sitting in the right field at baseball practice in Southlake, bored out of my mind, and looked over and saw lacrosse practice on the next field. It looked like the coolest thing ever. I went home and told my parents I wanted to try it out.

Luckily, my dad played college football at Towson and his college defensive coordinator was Gordy Combs. His son, Andrew “Buggs” Combs, was an All-American at Maryland and played for years in the MLL. My dad called up Buggs and told him I wanted to try lacrosse. Soon after a box of lacrosse gear had been shipped to my house.

I recruited a bunch of my friends to come out and play lacrosse with me the next year (apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed there was a lot more running around and contact at lacrosse practice). About six of us all switched from baseball and kept playing lacrosse together throughout middle and high school (one of them, Connor Harryman, was the faceoff specialist for Rutgers this year).

I went to Grapevine Faith for high school and played football. But because Grapevine didn’t have a lacrosse team I played lacrosse at Southlake, the local public school. My freshman year I wasn’t very good. I was undersized, I hadn’t come into my own yet and ended up as a face-off man because that was the only way for me to see the field. Sophomore year I moved to midfield, but was a borderline second/third team guy that didn’t get too much time.

That all changed in a game against Strake Jesuit during my sophomore year. One of the attackmen on our team went after a ground ball with one hand and missed the groundball. Anyone who’s played knows that’s probably any coach’s pet peeve, so coach pulled him and said, “who can go play attack?”

He looked down the bench and said “Bryce, you’re in.”

I looked across the field at the defenseman who was going to be guarding me who was committed to Army at the time.

“Listen coach, I don’t know about that one,” I remember saying.

But he put me in. And I ended up with a hat trick in the second half. That game gave me the confidence to continue to develop and I ended up sticking with attack and loving lacrosse even more.

So now, in a couple of years, I’ve gone from rightfielder, to face-off guy, to midfielder to attackman. And I decided I wanted to play lacrosse in college.

Photo Courtesy Bryce Wasserman

My family, coaches and friends always supported me in playing lacrosse, but that didn’t always go over well with football boosters and fans. If you ever wondered if Friday Night Lights was an accurate portrayal of high school football in Texas, it was. I was the quarterback for my high school football team and I’d have people come up to me that I didn’t even know and say things like “Are you ready for the game? You don’t have any lacrosse going on, right?”

They’d were also shocked I wanted to play lacrosse in college. That got some comments, too, picking a school in New Jersey (Monmouth) to play a sport not many were familiar with over the chance to play D2 or D3 football.

“You’re the starting quarterback and you don’t want to play football, son?”

No. I had given my all to both football and lacrosse and wanted to devote my college career to just one. And while football is great, I have a passion for lacrosse.

Attitudes have changed a lot. Both of my younger brothers are playing lacrosse. Casey just finished his sophomore year at Towson, and my youngest brother Drew committed to play at Utah. By the time Drew committed, there were dozens of lacrosse players in Texas going on to play at elite levels and many are choosing lacrosse over football. There were people in the community that saw what I and others did at the college level and realized lacrosse might not be a bad path.

When I got to Monmouth I was just excited to play. I worked my way into a starting role and had some success, both individually and as a team. But I hadn’t even thought there’d be a chance of me turning pro until a bit before the MLL draft. I got a few emails asking about my post-college plans. At the time I was planning to finish up my MBA, so I had no full-time job and had the time to dedicate to training and playing lacrosse.

I was pretty amped getting all those emails, so me and my housemates watched the draft. It was a very, very long night of watching Sandy Brown read off names for three hours. Then came the second to last pick. The Denver Outlaws picked me.

The funny thing about that pick is that I was one pick away from getting drafted to Dallas. Bill Goren, the owner of the Rattlers, told me later that if I had dropped to the last spot they were going to take me as the hometown pick. It would have been awesome, but I was just happy to be on any team.  However, my journey to a spot on an MLL roster was just getting started.

Last year North Carolina missed the NCAA tournament, so Chris Cloutier, Denver’s other attack pick, was free to start his pro career. Coach Tony Seaman gave me a call letting me know they were giving Cloutier a shot and that if it didn’t work out I’d be next in line.

Cloutier went out and got six goals and two assists in his first game and I’m thinking, “Oh great. I’ll never play.” I got the opportunity to travel a bit, and saw my next opportunity last year during the World Lacrosse Championships. Several guys on Denver would be going to Israel to play, so I gave Coach Seaman a call to see if they needed me. Denver opted to call up several guys on the practice squad local to Colorado over me.

I knew the chances of me getting to play were getting slimmer. After all, I was getting further away from playing college ball and hadn’t seen the field. So I rolled the dice. I called Coach Seaman up and asked for my release.

“Coach, I really appreciate you drafting me, but this obviously isn’t working out. I really believe in myself. Can you please let me go try to find another home?”

Coach Seaman granted my release. I couldn’t be more thankful that he did, or else I don’t even know if I’d be playing right now.

I reached out to all eight other teams at that point. And again Dallas was in play. I spoke to Goren again who said he’d love to get me out for a practice, see how I fit in with the guys and then talk about whether I fit into in the lineup.

Photo Courtesy Major League Lacrosse

 

But Ohio was number one on the waiver wire. And  they were missing Marcus Holman and Tom Schreiber, who were both in Israel. So I got the phone call from Bear Davis that they were picking me up, and I had to get out to Columbus in a matter of days.

It almost didn’t happen. A few days before I had to be out there I went to the doctor and got an MRI for what was a slipped disc. But they also saw something at the top of the MRI that they thought looked could be a tumor. I go to the oncologist. I do all these scans: CT scans, bone scans, the whole nine. They say that they can’t find anything but that the lump isn’t supposed to be there.

“You cannot play physical sports until we figure out what this is,” the doctor said.

This is 48 hours before my big shot. Twenty four hours before my flight. I was faced with a decision. Am I going or am I staying?  I didn’t sleep that whole night before.

Screw it. I’m doing this.

I had worked too hard to be sidelined by what was essentially speculation. Fortunately, it turned out to be a blood clot and I was cleared to play anyway.

Going into the first game were a lot of jitters, but I told myself on my first touch I was going to get all the butterflies out. I ran out of the box, split left and yanked one wide. But the jitters were gone. On that same possession I scored my first MLL goal.

I only had one goal that game, but got affirmation from players like Kyle Harrison and Scott Rodgers that I belonged out there. But I also wasn’t sure if I would get another shot. The world games ended and I didn’t even think I was going to get the call back for the next weekend. Thankfully, Marcus Holman took a gelato tour of Italy after they won the gold medal. I owe it to Marcus, because he’s in the Italian countryside for the next week.

After my second game Marcus came back we had our season finale against Boston. It was one of the most fun games I’ve ever played in my life. Playing attack next to Justin Guterding and Marcus Holman was unbelievable. I went 4 and 1, and the things that you can do with those guys and the stuff that opens up was amazing.

So in a matter of weeks I went from “I made it” in game one, to “I belong” in game two to “let’s do this” in game three.

Headed into the 2019 MLL season I finally felt confident in where I was at in my pro lacrosse career. I was excited to get back, then blindsided by the phone call telling me the league is contracting that Ohio won’t have a team anymore.

After my initial shock, my first thought when all this went down was, “I’ve got to go back home to Dallas.”

I loved Ohio, but I needed a season in Dallas. It had to happen given how far I’d come. I wanted to go back home and support pro lacrosse my home state. When I was a kid there was no pro lacrosse in Texas. But, ever since the Rattlers moved to Dallas I have dreamed about playing in The Star in Frisco.

Then I got the call that I’d been picked up by Dallas in the disbursement draft. I couldn’t be more pumped.

Every day when I work out, if it gets tough, I think about running onto the field with the Dallas Cowboys star on it. My parents, my family, all my friends from high school are all going to be there, and I’m going to be playing professional lacrosse in my home state. I think about it every day.

When I was a kid, after Buggs gave me my first lacrosse equipment, I became a fan of his and the Bayhawks. And now, I’m going to have kids looking up to me the same way that I looked up to Buggs Combs. The only difference: I had to take a three hour flight to go see him play. I can’t imagine being 12 again and there’s a kid who went to my high school, went to the east coast to play college lacrosse, and now he’s back home and I can drive 20 minutes and go see him and aspire to be him.

I think about that a lot. That’s the impact that I can have now. A 12 year old kid can look at me and think: “He did this full circle thing. I want to do it, too.”

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