I’ve played lacrosse for a long, long time and have been covered by the games greatest defensemen. I look back at my high school days grinding it out against the tenacious Chris Passavia for the gold medal in the Empire State Games. My early college days against the insanely athletic Princeton Tiger Damien Davis. Locking horns with one of the best, Brodie Merrill, down in the nations capital. Trying to get around the disciplined and fundamentally sound Shawn Nadelin from the Hop. And even trying to keep my stick in my hands against my own teammate John Glatzel everyday in college practice.
Although lacrosse is a team sport, I always view the one on one match up between a defensemen and myself as a completely individual contest. There’s a part of me that becomes completely animalistic in games and all thought goes out the window.
For four quarters I am doing everything in my power to win this matchup. As a dodger, it’s my responsibility to initiate and get the job done. I will certainly break this down in a later and longer piece but the aim of this article is to focus on one match up that continues to make a major impact on my life.
I remember being 16 years old sitting in a stale conference room in Charlottesville, VA while Coach Dom Starsia spoke to Ryan Boyle and myself about the architectural design of the library located on the UVA campus. This was my very first of five official college visits that I would take over the course of the next month in an effort to find the right college fit for me. It was a super exciting time and I remember just thinking it was cool to be sitting next to Ryan Boyle, who I had only heard about through the lacrosse grapevine. I also could not get my head around the fact that one of the most legendary and well respected coaches in history wanted me to play for him.
The week prior to this visit Inside Lacrosse Magazine released an article that laid out the class of 2000 top recruits from around the world and it was Ryan Boyle from Maryland, myself, and some kid from Ohio named Brett Hughes. A word of the wise to the college coaches out there, as someone that has been through the process, I would highly recommend trying to coordinate your recruiting visit schedule such that all of your top prospects come on the same weekend. I couldn’t help my mind from day dreaming about being on an attack line with Ryan Boyle and winning 4 straight.
But I snapped out of my day dream when through the archway of the door walked in a tall, long-haired, confident and super athletic looking guy with a big smile on his face. I was racking my brain trying to place his face. I was thinking he was either a senior on the team or maybe even a graduate assistant coach on the UVA staff. He walked up and extended his hand to Coach Starsia and said, “Hello Coach Starsia, its an honor to meet you, my name is Brett Hughes.” I’m pretty sure everyone in that room heard me swallow. I could not believe this guy was my age! I swear to you he looked like he had been in a Division I strength and conditioning program since he was 4 and the way he carried himself with total confidence can only be described as impressive. I had pretty much just hit puberty at this point, I was about 5’4” tall, weighed 120 lbs and had never lifted a weight in my life — so needless to say I was a bit blown away by all of this.
Now that you know my first impression of Brett, lets fast forward the story to the beginning of the 2001 college season. Ryan ended up going to Princeton, I chose Syracuse, and Brett packed his bags in Ohio and cruised down to Charlottesville. Our second game of the season was against UVA and, even during the preseason, the media was talking about our match up like it was a highly anticipated UFC match. Two highly touted athletic rookies from small town America — “lets see who knocks the other one out” sort of thing. There was no scouting report on Brett before the game because he was a Freshman and to be completely honest with you, I never really paid attention to scouting reports anyway. Words on paper weren’t going to change the way I played lacrosse. We lined up for the first face-off and I looked beside me at big number 6 and he smiled and said “Hey Mike how have you been? Good luck today, lets have some fun.” I have to admit, and to quote John C. Rieley from Talledaga Nights, I was a bit “confused by his tactics.”
After all, I had grown up in a lacrosse atmosphere where defensemen would usually start the game by telling me they were going to break my legs and start snorting and spitting like WWF wrestlers.
For the next two hours we ran around the Carrier Dome and absolutely BATTLED. He would take the ball from me, then I would run by him for a goal, then he would lay me out, then I would beat him back door, then he would intercept my pass, then I would strip him on a ride. It was just back and forth non stop competition and truly captured what makes sport so wonderful. After the game ended we shook hands and Brett and I talked for a bit and caught up on how college was going. I asked him if he was going to play college football (its not surprising at all but he was an unreal and highly recruited football player as well) and we both told each other that we had fun out there and we were looking forward to doing this every year for the next 4 years.
I knew at this moment that Brett and I really shared something when it came to how we approached sports. We both loved competition very much and it was that sentiment that created a deep respect for one another.
We didn’t have to hate each other to want to win.
Over the next four years Brett and I would exchange wins, losses and national championships but each battle between us was equally as intense and I always wanted the upper hand and know he would say the same.
Lets fast forward again to the present day. I just got off the phone with Brett after a two hour conversation about life, our passions, business, and hobbies. I told him that I wanted to write a piece about him for Field Exploration because I believe he’s a powerful person in our community with several admirable traits and a gift for spreading positive vibrations. As good of an athlete as Brett is and was, his passion for living life the “right” way far out weighs his ability on the field in my eyes. He thinks much bigger than sport. In honor of the number on his jersey I want to give you 6 lessons I feel we could all learn from Brett Hughes (along with Brett’s comments in bold).
#1. Philanthropy: “Before you tell me how you teach and preach… Show me how you live and Give” this is my favorite quote from Cory Booker and has driven me to serve more and learn how to best lead.
Brett helped start a non profit organization called Lacrosse The Nations that is committed to helping kids all over the planet. Their mission is to unify the lacrosse community to sustainably improve education and health while creating hope and opportunity for children in need. It’s this “giving back” or “pay it forward” mentality that not only helps humanity as a whole but improves our feeling of self worth as individuals. You should try it if you aren’t already, it feels good – really good. Volunteer, open doors, and be a leader in your community. Learn more at www.lacrossethenations.org
#2. Positivity: You pick your attitude the same way you choose your clothes… choose to be good news.
Brett and his good friend Dave Campbell created an online platform consisting of writings and imagery that support positive things that people are doing in the world. They shine light on life’s simple pleasures and keep us entertained with a fun blog that features music suggestions and apparel designs. Check out anotherbestday.com
All of the time I have spent with Brett over the years I don’t think I have ever seen him not smiling. I have to believe that he is the only human that sleeps with a giant smile.
#3. Respect: I view this as a must in life… the pursuit to be a great man starts with eye contact, yes sir/maam, and the honest ability to listen.
Like his respect for lacrosse and competition, he respects people. He genuinely enjoys being around people and hearing their views on life. From kids in Nicoraugua to Executives in California he sees them all as people, not as poor kids and rich guys, but people. And therefore treats them all with respect.
#4. Teach : I’ve had mentors… Watch One, Do One, Teach One… When you can teach from a humble and confident standpoint… you finally understand.
I’ve had the pleasure of watching Brett at lacrosse camps interact with kids. They love him because he is real, competitive and fun. He connects with kids in a very authentic way and gets them thinking bigger and beyond lacrosse. Although he leads mostly by example, his incredible patience also allows him to step out of the way and allow kids the opportunity to experience it for themselves. This is a special quality to possess as a teacher.
#5. Learn : I’d say this is called Curiosity. People are my greatest passion, I will forever be curious and that I believe will keep me moving my entire life.
I love understanding why people do what they do/ think how they think and what has informed their decisions good or otherwise. Books, Podcasts, and most importantly meaningful discussions are the reason we are here. I spend a lot of time in individual thought just so I can engage in community conversation.
Brett is a sponge. A reader and a student of life in many ways. He lives with his eyes and ears wide open, picking up bits and pieces here and there that he can put in his holster. This is a powerful lesson for all of to grasp, there is so much to know and so much room for improvement within all of us.
#6. Seek : Travel/Wander… Here is a quote that sums up a lot of why I think the way I do… If you’ve never read the book Vagaboniding by Rolf Pots check it out.
“Vagabonding is an attitude—a friendly interest in people, places, and things that makes a person an explorer in the truest, most vivid sense of the word. Vagabonding is not a lifestyle, nor is it a trend. It’s just an uncommon way of looking at life—a value adjustment from which action naturally follows. And, as much as anything, vagabonding is about time—our only real commodity—and how we choose to use it.” ― Rolf Potts
He is always looking ahead and chasing his dreams. He never lets his life get stale. His wife Kate Voegele is a super talented traveling singer/songwriter with fans all over the world and Brett lives a life that is constantly moving and he embraces that movement. He currently holds a Market Lead position at the Thuzio Executive Club in California and continuing to grow as a person.
In closing and good ol’ fashion fun — Brett sent this to me at the conclusion of our phone conversation with this comment, “I still hate watching this goal.” So I figured I would share it with all of you!
And the battle continues…