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Friday, April 20 Sports

Reid All About It / Mustangs leader Kerrigan inspired

All student-athletes leave an impact when their days with the Mustangs, Falcons, Jesuits or Lancers are over. But each impression left on their teammates, coaches and fans is as different as can be with equally as varied imprints.

Some make all-conference or All-State and even All-America in the rarest of instances. Some continue playing their sports in college, or say good bye to one or two pursuits and just focus on competition in one.

Some are starters in their high school days, some are reserves, some get next to no playing time but contribute in practices and scrimmages, and lend support from the bench while the games are going on or during timeouts. Most grow, improving their skills and gaining confidence. And despite what their teachers intended in their carefully devised lesson plans, these student-athletes learn more about teamwork and cooperative experiences on the field or court -- or pool, rink, diamond, track or course -- than from being assigned any roles for group projects in their classrooms.

One student-athlete graduated last week, and if you listen to the coaches of the teams he served as captain in 2013-14, it is obvious that his contributions as a leader and stellar player in football, basketball and lacrosse will go beyond being merely memorable. Brian Kerrigan, formerly of Fairfield Warde, but headed for the University of Richmond later in the summer, is on his way to becoming iconic, if he isnt there already.

His leadership role with the Mustangs will be replaced with different captains, some of whom will excel at it in their ways, but his brand of leading will not be duplicated.

Kerrigan might be the once-in-a-generation inspirational force at Warde.

He was first-team All-FCIAC as a football tight end. He started for the Mustangs' basketball team as an effective post player in grabbing rebounds and defending. He was second-team All-FCIAC as a defender in lacrosse and second team All-State in Class L on defense.

There might have been better athletes on the team in each of his sports, though not many. Kerrigan was a talented athlete but you could find other players who were faster, quicker, taller, stronger and more skillful, and even more graceful. But as far as toughness, determination, dedication and character -- might as well throw in grit -- he had few rivals.

The package was awe-inspiring.

Duncan DellaVolpe, Warde's football coach, hesitated for a full half-second when asked to suggest a feature story on his team leading into the Thanksgiving rivalry game with Ludlowe. He spent fewer than 30 seconds explaining why.

The interview with Kerrigan in the Mustangs' equipment shed before practice that week was a career landmark from this vantage point of covering high school sports on and off since 1979. Kerrigan didn't merely exude confidence, enthusiasm and the maturity that few teenagers won't acquire until well into their 20s. His outlook and grasp of the world beyond Mustangs Land were that of an adult.

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As impressive as it was to watch him in three sports, it cannot compete with those whose perspective on him came firsthand and on a daily or yearly basis. Here's what four of his coaches had to say about him:

"He is such a great kid from a great family, which has such great values," said basketball coach Ryan Swaller. "I was fortunate to coach Brian for four years in basketball, and he is the type of leader that only comes around once in awhile. He will truly do whatever is necessary for his teams to better themselves, even if it is him not taking the spotlight but being a role player.

"As a player, when he walked into the gym and spoke, his teammates listened. He had a physical presence, vocal presence, and most of all the work ethic of a leader," Swaller said. "Every practice, I know he gave his all and made his team better. There wasn't a practice that he left without two or three shirts drenched in sweat. If a teammate needed redirection, he spoke up. If a teammate was down on himelf, he gave him praise. Brian's voice, presence and leadership will be missed here at Warde."

Lacrosse coach Tom Cunningham was quick to add his praise.

"From my perspective, Brian is a world class student-athlete," Cunningham said. "He is a leader on and off the field and is a phenomenal student. He is one of several seniors who have dedicated their time at Warde to raise the bar for the boys lacrosse program. He has the team-first mentality in all that he does.

"Even when he found out he was receiving the individual honor of second-team All-State, he stated that this award was not about him but the team. That is who Brian is and what he brings to the table, day in and day out," Cunningham said. "Thanks for recognizing such an amazing part of Warde athletics these past four years."

Warde defensive lacrosse coach Brian DePodesta offered his observations.

"Brian is the true definition of a great leader," DePodesta said. "He is blessed with the ability to be able to lead both vocally and by example. He will do anything to help his team win a game."

Della Volpe said: "Brian was a perfect captain for our football team. He was the guy that pushed others to be better. He worked so hard, setting an example for many others to follow. Regardless of any outcome of games, Brian was the one player that pushed team first, never anything else.

"He defines pride, leadership and teammate," Della Volpe said. "To say he will be missed is a huge understatement. Brian gets it ... and will be successful in the future. He is an infectious person and one that I wish we could clone."

The themes of the coaches' comments are amplified by what he said he tried to accentuate. His role was to motivate and to help push all to work as hard as they could individually and collectively.

"I tried to keep morale up," said Kerrigan, whose football team finished at 4-7 after beating Ludlowe 44-21 and whose basketball team went 2-18, with both wins against the Falcons. His free throw in overtime sent Warde to victory over Ludlowe on Feb. 11. His three teams won all five games against Ludlowe, including a 5-4 victory over the Falcons in lacrosse, the first time Warde beat Ludlowe in that sport.

"I tried to keep them motivated and focused."

Kerrigan recalled his freshman year in lacrosse. "We came into the program that won one game that year. We just worked on getting the kids to love the game and to keep working hard, and we were playing some of the best teams in the country," he said. "We didn't want that season to define our class or what the program was capable of.

"Sophomore year, we were a little better; junior year, we were a little better (than sophomore year). Then we started to have captains' practices as much as we can."

He said the hard work paid off by the Mustangs reaching the conference tournament for the first time and winning a state tournament game, leaving Warde as the No. 9 team in the state. The Mustangs beat Wilton, the all-time leader in state lacrosse championships with 22, for the first time in school history in May, helping the Mustangs to their first FCIAC tournament. Brendan King scored the game-tying goal and the winner in overtime. King immediately cited Kerrigan's inspirational messages to the players as the turning point in the milestone victory.

But Kerrigan is mostly about big picture.

"I learned a lot about humility -- knowing that you're not always going to be the best," he said. "I learned about the power of leadership and good teams. I became more mature; I became more intelligent.

"I wouldn't trade that experience for anything in the world," Kerrigan said.

He plans to be a walk-on on the Richmond lacrosse team.