Cover photo courtesy of South Park Magazine
By Jason Felts
Introducing the next installment of our newest blog series, MonkeyBusiness. We take the time to speak with some of the biggest names in lacrosse, past, present, or future, to get an insight on their path in the sport, the legacy they want to leave, and the steps being taken to #GrowTheGame.
If Maryland Stadium had rafters over the men’s lacrosse field, they’d be pretty full of banners. 12 National Championships, 11 NCAA Tournament Runner-Ups, 41 NCAA Tournament Appearances, 124 First-Team All-Americans, the list goes on. But in all of these accolades from nearly 100 years of varsity lacrosse, one player stands out from the crowd; the only Terrapin to ever win the Tewaaraton Trophy, Matt Rambo.
“I was hoping to win (the Tewaaraton Trophy), I was excited, but no one really knew. It was nerve-wracking. I don’t look at that award as an individual award though just because you don’t win the Tewaaraton without having team success and having your teammates help you out. If I didn’t have Connor Kelly scoring 50 goals that year, I don’t win the Tewaaraton. If I didn’t have Colin Heacock getting me a bunch of assists or a bunch of goals, I don’t win the Tewaaraton. If we don’t have our defense stop everyone, I don’t win it, so I look at it more as a team goal, and I was just privileged to be up there representing my school,” Rambo said.
Rambo alongside fellow Terp Zoe Stukenberg, winner of the 2017 Women’s Tewaaraton. Photo courtesy of UMTerps.com.
During his time in College Park, Rambo put together an astonishing career, setting Terrapin records in career points (257), career goals (155), career points in the NCAA Tournament (62), as well as three trips to the National Championship, finally winning one in his senior season.
“Our leadership was super strong that year. Not saying that other years weren’t but I mean we just lost in overtime (in the National Championship) the year before, it’s all of our last chances, we’re going to have to work harder than we did last year because we were short by a goal. We had to work a little bit harder, a little bit smarter, and just figure it out. It was a little different feel with the team, our attention to detail was super high that year. It’s a game of inches, and we lost by just that last little inch the year before, so everyone was a little more on edge. The seniors and all of us didn’t want to lose another National Championship,” Rambo said about the 2017 season that ended with a 9-6 victory over Ohio State in the National Championship game.
Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Sun.
At such an illustrious program like Maryland, Rambo says that playing on Memorial Day weekend is a standard, but not something that should overlook the job they have to do on the field each week.
“Obviously at any program your main goal should be winning the National Championship, and for us, if you don’t win the National Championship you fell short, so it’s definitely a standard and definitely something we strived for to be playing on championship weekend. It was the greatest experience of my life so far, but that’s all preseason stuff, thinking about winning a National Championship and all. Once the first game comes and once the first practice comes, it’s all about who’s on your schedule next. You can’t look past teams, you’ve always got to be focused on the next team and the next practice. The biggest thing at Maryland is that we had to get better every day or you were falling a step behind.”
Rambo made an immediate impact once he got to College Park, starting all 17 games and putting up 30 goals. From there, his production continued to climb, jumping from 6 assists as a freshman to 45 as a senior.
“I didn’t know I was going to be an impact player right away, I don’t think anyone knows that. You’re a young freshman going up against men, I was just privileged to be able to start as a freshman. That’s your dream, but it’s a really hard thing to do, especially when some schools have stars that have already been there. It was always my dream to have an impact and win a National Championship, and I was fortunate to start (as a freshman), it was pretty cool,” Rambo said. “My freshman year I was more of a role player. Just was more of a goal scorer and not dodging as much, but throughout the years, the coaches and some of the older guys, Chanenchuk, Brian Cole, even Heacock, we all worked on our critiques together and tried to get our game better. Just learning from the coaches really took my game to the next level. As my name was getting bigger and as I was dodging more, every game I was drawing more and more slides, and when you draw more slides, you’ve got to pass the ball more.”
Rambo alongside friend and former teammate Colin Heacock and Maryland Head Coach John Tillman.
After his National Championship and Tewaaraton-winning season, Rambo was selected with the 3rd overall pick in the 2017 MLL Draft by the Charlotte Hounds, where he put up 15 points in his first season (only playing 6 games due to NCAA requirements), followed by a team high 47 in 2018.
“It’s definitely a weird transition (into the MLL). At Maryland, I went from August until May, and I play as more of a body type of guy, so I had to take two weeks off before I played an MLL game just to get my body right. We had also just won a National Championship so I had to hang with my buddies some. It’s weird too because in the professional lacrosse league, you’re not practicing every day. There’s a little bit different vibe and a different camaraderie. I love the game of lacrosse for the camaraderie between the team, and I got that in the pros, but in college, you’re going all out for your school because you’re with each other every single day for four years. Everyone gives everything they’ve got and no one is going to question how hard you work, but I just think that it’s a different feel. After a couple weeks you figure it out and those guys become your boys, it takes a little bit of a transition because you’re hopping on the team halfway through the year. The best teams are the ones that are friends off the field too, and if you have a good locker room, you’re going to have good chemistry and have a lot of success.”
Rambo was also recently drafted to the Philadelphia Wings of the NLL, his hometown team growing up that is making a comeback for the 2018-19 season.
“Watching the Wings when I was younger was awesome. The games are absolutely crazy fun. They’re electric, the crowd is super involved, so when I got picked up in the draft, I was so happy. It’s a dream come true to play for your hometown. I’m a Philly sports guy only, I’m not a bandwagon guy, so getting to play for a Philly team is absolutely a dream come true, I couldn’t have written it up any better.”
Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Wings.
Making his first attempt at box lacrosse, Rambo believes his style of play transitions well, as the Philadelphia Wings return to the NLL following a brief hiatus from 2014-2018.
“I’ve played box a little bit here and there, not a crazy amount, but I think that my game is going to fit well in the box and in the NLL, I hope at least. I like the two-man game, I did that in college a lot with my buddy (Colin) Heacock, I’m a big body guy, I use contact to my advantage, and that’s what box is. A lot of contact, a lot of feeling what your defenseman is doing, and that’s kind of my game when I’m dodging a defenseman, so I think that could help well, and I think those two things are going to have the most impact for the Wings so I think I could help us out by being a big body, two-man game, quick release guy.”
Rambo was one of the first athletes to be sponsored by Epoch Lacrosse, becoming the face of several new product lines as his MLL success continued.
Photo courtesy of Epoch Lacrosse.
“Before myself, Heacock, Dylan Molloy, Jesse King, like we’re the first sponsored athletes that Epoch has really had, where some of these other companies have had guys for years and years, so I liked getting to be one of the first big names with Epoch, it’s been a really cool thing.”
Being joined by former Terrapin teammate Colin Heacock, Rambo was used to help promote the new Dragonfly 9, the next iteration of Epoch’s high-performance composite shaft.
“I was using the Dragonfly 8 and I thought it was light and that it was great, but it had more of a sandpaper feel to it, which was fine for the handle, but when I used the Dragonfly 9, it was even lighter and even stronger, which is crazy, but the sandpaper feeling is a little bit smoother, so it still has the amazing grip, but you can slide your hands a little bit better too, which is just a better texture. I use it every day and my shot is more accurate, there’s a bit more torque and leverage, it’s honestly probably the best shaft I’ve ever used.”
Epoch takes pride in continuing to push the envelope and adding unmatched innovation to the game. From their first Dragonfly shaft to now, Epoch can offer a wide range of shafts under the “Dragonfly” name that cater to different positions, styles of play, and shape preference, making them one of the most customizable lacrosse shaft brands on the market.
“I love it, that was one of the things that drew me to Epoch when they reached out to me. They’re redefining the technology in shafts with carbon fiber, making them lighter and stronger, I just think they’re an amazing company. One of the main reasons why I wanted to work with them is because their production and their headquarters are all American made. I love how it’s all American made, I think it’s great for our country and our community. We’re coming out with new stuff every few months, you can get customizable gloves for a reasonable price, it’s just been amazing getting to work with them. They’re always there for me, it’s a great relationship and I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Rambo is in constant contact with Epoch, splitting time between meeting them in his hometown of Philadelphia, or heading up to Minnesota to help them develop new products or give feedback.
“I’ll try stuff out to see how I like it. I’ll go up to their headquarters and they’ll show me new stuff coming out and try to find out how I like my stick and how they can come out with a head or a shaft or whatever they’d want to move forward with. They’ll get feedback from all the athletes about what kind of feel we like and how we like the ball sitting in our head and stuff, so they’ll definitely use some of those ideas that we pitch, they’re pretty smart over there.”
Epoch has increased their share in the protective market, introducing the elite Integra line.
“If you haven’t tried Epoch stuff, I would highly advise you try not just their shafts, but their heads are awesome too, and lowkey their pads are amazing. They have this new technology that fits your arms perfectly and you’re so free and it’s not tight, it’s literally amazing. They work hard on their technology and their craft, and they take it super seriously with everything being American made, more people need to rock with Epoch.”
Photo courtesy of Matt Rambo’s Instagram.
Through Legends Lacrosse, Rambo helps run clinics for youth players around the country, trying to help kids improve both on and off the lacrosse field.
“The biggest message I leave is that if you want to be great, you can be great. If you want to be the next Mikey Powell, Rob Pannell, Matt Rambo, like we all didn’t get great after one practice. We all worked our tail off 24/7 growing up. I always tell kids that if they want to make it to the next level, they have to work harder than the guy next to you. If you work your tail off, you can take anything pretty far.”
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