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Cabrini’s Leyden (Haverford High) overcame many setbacks to reach promised land as National champion

Monday, 27th May 2019

Categories Boy's/Men's, College  
 

By Matthew De George
For Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 5/27/19

Kevin Leyden’s scars require a little explanation. You see, he’s had the ACL in his left knee repaired twice. That’s the one with the heft brace. But the second surgery required a graft from his right knee, hence the matching scar.

It’s easy to get confused with all the stops on Leyden’s journey. But as a testament to his perseverance, Leyden stood outside the Cabrini locker room Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, with a beaming smile on his face and a piece of a carved up net in his hat.

Leyden is one of many in Cabrini’s championship cast, scoring a goal in a 16-12 win over Amherst for the program’s first Division III national championship. And his path there is more circuitous than most.

Leyden, a 2014 Haverford High grad, committed to Penn State for lacrosse. But a knee injury on the football field robbed him of a season of lacrosse (and ice hockey, where he wasn’t too shabby either). He changed his commitment to West Chester to play football, and when things didn’t work out there due to a combination of his ongoing rehab and non-sports reasons, he ended up at Delaware County Community College, unsure if his athletic career would continue.

Then Cabrini coach Steve Colfer called, and the rest is history.

“I think he sees guys differently than their past,” Leyden said. “He really takes guys in from the local area, has connections and does really well at bringing guys back that he thinks can contribute and make a difference on the field and in the classroom.

“He brings in good guys all the time, and as you see with all our teammates, we have amazing guys here.”

Cabrini’s Kevin Leyden (left), Nick Waligurski (center), Nick Vass bask in the glory of the Division III National Championship at Lincoln Financial Field (Photo by Rene Schleicher)

Leyden is one of many. Timmy Brooks, who served time in jail for his involvement in a drug dealing ring, scored two goals Sunday. Faceoff man Luke McCallion, who attended Vermont last year after his career at Haverford High, and Tyler Kostack, formerly a High Point commit, played key roles against Amherst.

Colfer knows Cabrini isn’t always the first choice of most of his players. But he’s been willing to do the work to allows players like Leyden to find a second life in lacrosse. And the program has reaped the benefits.

“You’ve got to go find them,” he said. “And we weren’t a first-choice destination, and I don’t know if we ever will be, even though we just won a national championship. We have the underdog mentality, and we find guys that that appeals to and I sell. I’m not going to lie, I sell it. But what I sell is the fact that, hey, you’re going to come here and get an opportunity to get a top-rated education, you’re going to be part of something that’s bigger than yourself, and you’re going to have friends and brothers for the rest of your life.”

It doesn’t get much bigger than this – the school’s first National Championship in any sport!

Leyden plays a key role in the Cavs offense, as a safety valve on clears, where his athleticism can shine. His goal Sunday got the Cavs within 4-3 in the second quarter, his eighth of the season. He had a groundball and a turnover as Cabrini went 15-for-21 on clears.

In Leyden’s case, the decision to keep going after his second knee tear last year wasn’t easy. As much as he wanted to continue playing, it was a matter not just of dealing with the pain and physical issues, but the psychological aspect – of constantly being reminded what his body won’t allow him to do, of measuring the present against the past. It’s a temptation not easily shaken.

“It was a real tough decision,” Leyden said. “My second ACL last year at the end of last year, I had a lot of decisions to make. I could’ve just kind of put it away.

“But I really dedicated myself to doing physical therapy and committed myself to rehabbing both my knees and getting ready for the season. And I’m so thankful that I came back. I’m so thankful I have the coaches, staff, physical therapists and trainers to get back here.”

The selling point for Leyden and company wasn’t just another chance to play within a brotherhood but to pursue something special. As Nick Vass – a sixth-year senior who converted from attack to defense – put it, it was an opportunity to compete one more time for a national title.

Of all the things that made Sunday so rewarding, the travails in Leyden’s past are pretty high up there.

“That’s exactly why I came back,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. You think about all the tough times that you think you’re never going to be able to walk or be how you were again.

“Sometimes you don’t, but coming back and winning a national championship, that’s why we came here. And it’s unbelievable.”

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