PHOTO BY MARK SELIGER

New Holy Cross Coach J.L. Reppert Just 'Felt Like the Right Fit'


J.L. Reppert knew the timing would never be perfect. Not when it came time to leave an assistant coaching gig at Maryland, working for a mentor of a quarter-century on a team routinely in the mix for deep NCAA lacrosse tournament runs.

There are different shades of odd timing, of course, and Reppert wound up diving into his first head coaching gig at the strangest of times — less than a week before practice started and in the middle of a pandemic.

But here he is, a little more than a month later, and closing in on his first game at Holy Cross. The Crusaders open their season Saturday at home against Sacred Heart, a blissfully normal milestone after a rare January coaching change.

“Timing aside, which is crazy timing with everything happening, everything here felt like the right fit,” Reppert said. “From the moment I started to talk to people, talked to [athletic director] Marcus Blossom, to people I talked to about the program and to people who were involved in the program to the interview process, it just felt right.”

Reppert takes over for Peter Burke, who led the program for two seasons but was abruptly let go Jan. 8 when the school issued a terse four-sentence release — half of which was devoted to the process of conducting a national search — about a “change in leadership.”

It came at a spot in the calendar when the coaching market is usually muted. But Holy Cross still landed a candidate who was on Maryland’s staff for its 2017 national title.

“All my research really confirmed that he’s a quality guy, high integrity, high ethics,” Blossom said. “I really couldn’t find one person to say a bad thing about him, and I searched hard. I thought it was almost too good. Like, ‘Come on, man, this isn’t real.’”


“I really couldn’t find one person to say a bad thing about him, and I searched hard. I thought it was almost too good. Like, ‘Come on, man, this isn’t real.’” — Marcus Blossom


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Think of Holy Cross as something of a men’s lacrosse Rorschach test.

Dwelling on a wide panorama of the Crusaders’ history isn’t pleasant. There was a 30-year stretch of losing seasons, spanning from 1989 to 2018. But Burke got Holy Cross to 7-7 in 2019, then 4-3 in a truncated season last year. The program has never been to an NCAA tournament, but it is in far better shape than it once was.

Then there’s Burke’s ouster, which was unexpected enough by itself. But Reppert is also the fourth head coach in eight years in Worcester, a churn that would be understandable cause for pause for a coaching candidate.

On the flip side, Holy Cross is a well-known brand in New England. And while Blossom acknowledged the school needs to boost its commitment from the two scholarships it currently provides, he believes the operating budget and donor and alumni involvement are considerable.

What the Crusaders have been historically could be different than what they could become. It all depends on how you look at it.

And there’s no doubt how Reppert sees things.

“I think what excites me about Holy Cross is the potential here, and I think there has maybe not been the consistency they would hope for,” Reppert said. “But there is a lot going for the school. There’s a lot going for the athletic department. And there’s a lot going for the lacrosse team. Those things excited me. I think there is a hunger to compete in the Patriot League and hunger and develop a national brand recognition within lacrosse.”

Reppert brings an intriguing background to the job. He attended Loyola Blakefield in Baltimore, giving him plenty of familiarity with the Jesuit mission at Holy Cross. He was Navy’s team captain in 1999, helping the Midshipmen reach the NCAA tournament as a senior. He was a Marine Corps officer after graduation before finding his way into coaching after completing his service commitment.








He’s familiar with the Patriot League after a three-year stint as an assistant at Navy in the early 2010s, and he spent the last six seasons as Maryland’s offensive coordinator working with the likes of Matt Rambo, Connor Kelly and Jared Bernhardt, among others.

“I was also looking for someone that had the pedigree and the respect nationally in the world of lacrosse. I think I found that with J.L.,” Blossom said. “When we announced Peter wasn’t returning, the amount of nasty e-mails I got [stood out]. And I’m telling you, I haven’t gotten any since J.L. was announced. When you [ask about] the feedback, it’s been overwhelmingly positive.”

Holy Cross hired Reppert on Jan. 22. Four days later, he oversaw the Crusaders’ first preseason practice along with assistants Ian Farley and Shayne Lynch. The realities of the pandemic coupled with the late arrival date means a massive overhaul of the program’s schemes this season is unlikely.

Yet there’s still a lot to do and instill. Reppert said his biggest takeaways from Maryland coach John Tillman are that coaching is about the people involved and that much of the Terrapins’ success in the last decade is rooted in work ethic and attention to detail.

Those principles figure to be cornerstones for the Crusaders in the years to come.

“I think he’s learned through the years,” said Tillman, whose first season as an assistant at Navy was Reppert’s plebe year. “When he was younger, he was a hard charger and kind of realized not everybody is built like a Marine or a Navy guy. … I think he gets the education piece, the bigger-picture piece. He’s a dad now. I think he’ll do fine.”




PHOTO BY MARK SELIGER


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Reppert is impressed with the tightness of the team he’s taken over. Some of the Crusaders are on the third head coach of their careers, so some stability will be welcome.

So, too, would a push into the top third of the Patriot League after going 4-4 in conference play two seasons ago, and Reppert isn’t viewing the next few months as a trial run.

“I’m not waiting to get my group in here,” Reppert said. “I’m not waiting to figure it out for a year. This isn’t a scrimmage in the spring for getting ready for next year. We’re going to work our tails off to win this year and maximize the potential of the team we have.”

As for the long-term possibilities? Blossom is optimistic the program’s ceiling can continue to rise in the years to come, in part because of an unusually timed hire eager to help the Crusaders take another leap.

“We’re committed to lacrosse and to future success in both men’s and women’s lacrosse,” Blossom said. “I think we can be really good here. The history is just the history. I don’t really pay too much attention to it because I’m more focused on moving forward. I think with the right leadership, and I think we have that in J.L., and with an increased commitment from us, I think we can ultimately achieve our goals, which is to contend for Patriot League championships and NCAA tournament appearances.”