‘Like having another coach’: Despite ACL tear, Concord’s Max Leahy continued to lead boys’ lacrosse program

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 06-06-2023 9:16 PM

Last summer, current Concord High senior Max Leahy received the news any athlete dreads to hear: You tore your ACL.

He’d been playing lacrosse for the New Hampshire Tomahawks club team when the injury occurred. That meant no soccer season for him in the fall, no basketball season in the winter and no lacrosse season this spring.

As a senior, he could’ve gone off on his own without much consequence, recovering from the injury and not worrying about teams he wasn’t going to be able to play for. But that’s not how Leahy saw things. Even physically compromised, he had a duty to be there for his teammates and do whatever he could to help his team.

He’d also been a team captain for the Concord boys’ lacrosse program since his junior season.

“As a captain, you have to be through everything,” Leahy said. “I’d be a really terrible captain if I just quit on the team right then and there.”

Leahy explained his role this past spring season as that of a bridge between head coach Jeff Smith and the players. Occupying more of a coaching-type oversight role, he still shared more in common with his teammates than the coaching staff.

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That meant helping relay messages from teammates to the coaches and, sometimes, from the coaches to the players. In certain situations, directions are more likely to be heeded when coming from a fellow player than from a coach.

“The less we do as coaches, and the more that they can take on, obviously the better and healthier the program is,” Smith said. “Obviously there are points where we step in, where kids aren’t going to 100% listen to their captains every time, but they do a good job of getting their point across, and we tend to put messages through them to get to the team.”

Along those lines, Leahy also focused extensive time on mentoring the first- and second-year players.

Part of that included the warmup period of practice when captains would run skill-development drills. Surely it’s harder to participate without being physically able to play, but he was always certain to be there.

“He’s one of the few kids that’s come through the program that, with an injury, still want to be part of it and still stay, even though they don’t have to,” Smith said. “He’s just a very committed, smart young man who wants to keep giving back, even though he physically can’t be on the field to do it.”

‘Everyone was always there’

In addition to the time devoted to Concord boys’ lacrosse, Leahy’s also had to put in the extra work to rehab his knee. He’ll be attending the University of Connecticut in the fall and thinks he might try out for the club lacrosse team. Even if he doesn’t, though, ensuring he goes through the correct recovery process remains vital to the health of his knee moving forward.

While recovery from an ACL tear can be a long, arduous process, Leahy’s teammate, Brody McGonigle, suffered a similar injury a few months before Leahy and went through a similar process, so he’s had someone to confide in as he experiences the challenges in the recovery.

“When I was in the recovery process, the protocols are pretty much the same, so I’d get to a point and ask him about it,” Leahy said. “He’d talk about how much he hated it. I’d agree with him.”

Part of the challenge is the need for constant awareness on what his body is doing during various exercises — for example, focusing on how he lands after jumping.

“I’ve never thought about landing when I jump,” he said. “So it’s just really focusing on a lot of minor details and strengthening a lot of muscles.”

Concord’s season wrapped up in the quarterfinals of the Division I playoffs this past Saturday, as the No. 8 Tide lost to Bishop Guertin, 22-5. And while Leahy wasn’t able to do much to help his team on the field in that game and the 17 games that preceded it, he still gained a deeper appreciation on the value team sports have.

“Everyone was always there for me, Leahy said. “Everyone was always supporting me. Everyone would always listen to me because they knew where I was coming from. … People will always be there for you. That’s one of the things I’m going to take from this, including the coaching staff, too.”

Smith expressed a mutual admiration.

“It’s almost like having another coach,” he said. “He doesn’t goof off. He’s very focused, and I think it means a lot to the team, seeing someone who can’t be out there doing it taking it so seriously.”

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