For those paying close attention during Friday’s lacrosse game between DU and Duke at the Mile High Classic, the Blue Devils were missing No.’s 9, 12, 26 and 31 when the starting line-ups took the field.

The numbers belong to seniors C.J. Costabile, Justin Turri, Robert Rotanz and sophomore Jordan Wolf, respectively, all of whom are All-American and Honorable Mention recipients. Also missing was the rest of the starting lineup, including junior goalie Dan Wigrizer. Head coach John Danowski would wait three minutes before calling his top players’ numbers, and by that point, DU had jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

Although the Blue Devils were coming off an ACC championship victory from the previous weekend, clinching an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament, the move was still peculiar. I asked Danowski about it after the game, following his team’s 15-9 loss in which his starting lineup played the remaining 57 minutes of the game.

“We decided after last weekthat we have 41 guys on this roster and there are kids that never get in the game, because our games have been so close, so they don’t see the field much, if at all,” said Danowski. “We felt that we had prepared them all week and would give them an opportunity to go out there and compete from the first whistle.”

Danowski never intended to let the lineup play out the whole quarter, but the fact is he did honor and reward his players in a way most coaches aren’t able to do.

Underneath the lights of a professional sports stadium, Danowski sent out his bench to start the game.

“For all the work they put in throughout the year, I thought this was a great reward for them – playing under the lights of a pro stadium in front of a national audience,” said Danowski. “I’ve never done something like that in my career, but I thought it was the right thing to do.”

He would mention his team hadn’t played in a single game where he had the opportunity to get extended playing time to all of his players, but most importantly, his answer to my question came down to this – he was rewarding young men who deserve to be rewarded.

“It was a reward for all their hard work this year and, for some of them, their entire career,” said Danowski.

The drop-off in talent level amongst starters and back-ups is minimal; however, some players edge others and get more opportunities on the field. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality of collegiate athletics.

Danowski recognized it and created a plan that celebrates the hard work and determination that goes into being a collegiate athlete – role player or star.

“We felt it was a really positive moment for our team as these guys help prepare us every week and are just important to the team as the other guys are,” said Danowski.

While Duke’s decision to go with their bench to start the game didn’t draw much, the subtle gesture from coach to player signifies what is great about collegiate athletics.

It didn’t have to be done, but it was the right thing to do, and in the end, it was a fitting reward for a group of individuals who deserved to be rewarded.

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