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Great Expectations: St. John’s Jeff Desko Continues Lacrosse Tradition at Syracuse

Friday, June 22, 2012

 

“It’s been like a cult.”

St. John's Jeff Desko is the latest member of his family to commit to Syracuse.

That’s how St. John’s-Shrewsbury attacker Jeff Desko described his family’s addiction to lacrosse, a sport that arguably no family in the country has been more successful with.

The Deskos are as intrinsic to Syracuse lacrosse as the Andrettis are to auto racing or the McMahons are to fake wrestling (otherwise known as the WWE). They are the first family of Syracuse lacrosse; like the Mannings in football, only if Cooper had made it big.

Jeff’s father Dave was an All-American and led Syracuse to the school’s first-ever national championship in 1983. Cousin Timothy and uncle Jeff were also All-Americans and national champions at the school, and uncle John is the head coach, having won ten national titles in his career (five as an assistant).

“Of course, I was born with a lacrosse stick in my hand,” Jeff said. “I played other sports… I loved baseball when I was younger. But I always knew I wanted to play college lacrosse.”

The tradition began with his grandfather, whom Jeff said used to dye and lace Syracuse players’ lacrosse sticks just to be close to the game. Uncle John is now the face of the program, having spent 19 seasons as an assistant to Roy Simmons, Jr. before replacing the legendary coach in 1998. Desko proceeded to create his own legend, leading the Orange to national titles in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2008, and 2009. 

Asked why lacrosse had become a way of life in the Desko family, John struggled to come up with an answer.

"I don't really know," he said. "I think the opportunity to come to a school like Syracuse and get a great education was part of it. And Syracuse has been very competitive in lacrosse. It's just a great opportunity."

Amazingly, Jeff didn’t always want to play for the Orange. “At first, I wanted to make my own path,” he said. Jeff was pursued by Deleware and Siena, along with a multitude of Division III schools, and had not thought seriously about playing for Syracuse until the end of his junior year.

“I figured that an opportunity like this doesn’t come along for that many people, and I should take advantage of it, “ he said.

It is an incredible opportunity. The Orange are synonymous with success in lacrosse, having won 10 national titles and ranking second to Johns Hopkins University all-time in that category. Pro football Hall of Famer Jim Brown also played lacrosse at Syracuse.

Asked what he thinks it will be like to play for his uncle, Jeff paused.

“That’s a tough question,” he said. “I talked to my cousin [Tim] and he said that people gave him a hard time about it, being the coach’s son. They wondered if he could really play,” he said.

“The biggest thing he told me was, ‘Don’t listen to everyone. Just work hard and show [John] what you can do.’ And that’s what I’m going to do.”

Syracuse is arguably the most tradition-rich lacrosse program in the nation.

“A school like Syracuse recruits on talent or potential, or both,” said Terrence Leary, Jeff’s high school coach at St. John’s-Shrewsbury. “In Jeff’s case, it was both. He’s got a high-velocity right-handed shot, and he’s extremely accurate. He’s got the size and athletic ability to get away from his defender and get shots off, and his knowledge and vision on the field is what separates him,” he said. “He could be an impact player at Syracuse in a couple of years.”

John Desko is not sure whether or not Jeff will play right away at Syracuse, mostly because he hasn’t decided what position he is going to play.

“It’s impossible for me to say whether or not a kid is going to be able to play until we get them here. Jeff has a lot of physical talent, and he’s got all of the tools to be a very good player here,” he said.

John admitted that he is going to be toughest on his nephew. “I was that way with my son, and I probably will be with him as well,” he said. “Otherwise, it sets a bad precedent for the rest of the team.”

“At practice and during games, he’s not my uncle. He’s my coach,” Jeff said. “Off the field, at family functions and stuff, he’s my uncle, and he’s a great guy. But on the field, I’m just going to work hard,” he said.

“I’m just going to make them proud,” he said.

 

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