“Adam DiMillo fully embodies what it means to be a Terp,” - Maryland Defenseman Bryce Young.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Adam DiMillo was already committed to Maryland during his high school career, so there was no pressing need to travel from western New York to the Showtime camp in Danbury, Conn. His parents couldn’t get off work, so it wasn’t going to be easy to get there.
No matter. DiMillo took a train to New York. Then a bus to a train station at the New York-Connecticut state line. Then a train into Connecticut. And finally a taxi.
Then he did it in reverse three days later.
“I’ll always remember that,” said ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra, who helps run the annual camp. “For all the kids I meet and all the games I see, some of them become a blur. That moment certainly wasn’t a blur. I’ve followed this kid every step of the way. When I’m watching or calling a Maryland game, I’m always looking for No. 23.”
For his part, DiMillo takes an understated approach to the memory. “You figure it out,” he said. “You just kind of go with it. People are nice. They help you out.” Yet it presaged what his career as a Terrapin would ultimately be about.
Over four years, DiMillo has rarely drawn extensive attention, but he etched out a vital role in helping Maryland reach three consecutive national title games and earn a No. 1 seed in each of the last three seasons. He’ll continue his final NCAA tournament Sunday when the Terrapins (13-3) travel to Annapolis to face Cornell (13-4) in the quarterfinals.
DiMillo entered the postseason with six goals, but his impact is better assessed through things like snagging a key groundball late in last month’s victory at Penn State, or having the savvy to see a potential transition opportunity that led to a Logan Wisnauskas goal in the second half of the same game.
“I don’t know where we’d be without him,” coach John Tillman said. “He just does so much for us. Every game, he’ll play wings, he’ll play defense, he plays offense, he plays man-down. Everywhere we ask ‘What can we do here,’ Adam’s always a consideration because he’s so complete. He’s smart and he’s a good athlete and he has good stick skills, and instinctively he’s very good. He always seems to be a play ahead and kind of gives us what we need.”
That DiMillo would enjoy a strong career shouldn’t come as a surprise; he was Inside Lacrosse’s No. 12 recruit in the class of 2014. But those are the guys who become mainstays on offense, piling up points and filling up box scores throughout their careers.
It just didn’t turn out to be his path. Early in his freshman year, Maryland was short-handed in the defensive midfield. Tillman emphasizes the importance of two-way middies, and DiMillo was happy to plug a hole in the hopes of helping the program.
For his first two seasons, he would carve out a place in the short stick defensive midfield rotation.
“Adam DiMillo fully embodies what it means to be a Terp,” defenseman Bryce Young said. “He’s selfless, he’s a competitor, a scrapper, relentless on the field. He came in and was an Under Armour All-American, one of the top players in the country on offense and came in and was asked to play defense and wasn’t fazed. He embraced the role completely. He was a big reason for our success the past three years and now that he’s a senior he’s one of the most versatile middies in the country.”
Once on the field, he wasn’t interested in coming off. He played with a shoulder injury his entire freshman year that required surgery the Friday after the Terps’ national title game loss to Denver. Time was of the essence; a six-to-eight month recovery period meant he would lose the entire fall but could get back in time for the start of the next season.
The next year, he suffered the same injury four games into the season. Rinse and repeat, with another surgery shortly after a Memorial Day defeat.
Every now and then, a shoulder would pop out during a game. For DiMillo, it was a minor issue.
“We were all like ‘How is this happening? Your arm is literally dangling from your shoulder,’” Young recalled. “He would be unfazed and pop it back in and go right back in and we’d all be like ‘He’s a bad dude.’”
He nearly made it through his junior without an injury incident, but in the final five minutes of a quarterfinal rout of Albany he took a hit to the hand. When he came to the sideline, teammate Nick Manis said “Yo, DiMillo, you’re bleeding.” When DiMillo removed his glove, his hand was gushing blood.
He’d broken a metacarpal in three different spots. Less than a week later, he was playing in Maryland’s semifinal against Denver.
“It was like a boxer’s fracture, basically,” DiMillo said. “I figured if boxers can box with it, I can play with it. I just numbed it up, taped it up pretty good. I practiced a little bit. I could still shoot, just didn’t have as much oomph on it with my left hand. I made it work and in the end, you fight a little pain for a week and it’s worth it.”
It makes DiMillo’s star turn in last year’s national title game all the more incredible. With Ohio State’s stingy defense holding Matt Rambo and Colin Heacock in check during a low-scoring first half, DiMillo delivered two critical goals to give Maryland a 5-2 lead at the break.
Not bad for a player who had scored just three times in his first 56 career games. Nearly a year later, DiMillo has an even-keeled analysis of the first of his two multi-goal games as a Terp.
“Those would be two guys you’d want to take away because at that end, they’re basically the strength of the offense,” DiMillo said of Rambo and Heacock. “Even putting Connor Kelly in that situation, he’s one of the guys teams are looking to take away. That kind of opened up [things]. Guys weren’t hedging off them much, so it really allowed for everybody else to seize an opportunity.”
It set up a senior year that’s seen DiMillo dabble in a bit of everything. He’s played more offense than at any point in his career and remains a fixture on faceoff wings. He’s still a valuable defensive midfielder, and figures to be on the field extensively as Maryland proceeds with its national title defense.
“He’s Captain Cool,” midfielder Tim Rotanz said. “He is one of the toughest kids I have ever seen in my life. Even at Penn State [last month], he got hit in the head and ruptured his eardrum and he’s still going. His whole philosophy is he’s never going to lay down on the field. He’s some type of psycho. … He’s one of the most undervalued players in the country right now. People forget about him, but we don’t.”
Tillman said he just trusts DiMillo will do everything the right way to put himself in a position to be successful. Whether it works or not, it’s all a coach can really ask. If any number encapsulates that philosophy, it’s DiMillo’s career penalty total: Two. One was a delay of game in 2016, another an interference call this year. Not bad for a guy who has largely played defense and ranks second among active players in total games (73), trailing only Kelly.
Getting that total to 76 games would fit with Maryland’s long-term objectives, but DiMillo --- like his coach --- prefers to stay in the moment.
“Fortunately for me and the rest of the seniors, we’ve made it to championship weekend all three years,” DiMillo said. “It’s not an expectation, but it’s kind of become the norm around here. We try to embrace it. Everybody in this locker room, we have all the pieces we need. If we just work hard and win every day instead of looking at the bigger picture --- win every drill individually and try to get better --- we’ll end up there.”
If Maryland makes it to Foxborough in two weekends, several players will play large roles. Kelly is a Tewaaraton finalist. Attackman Jared Bernhardt was a first team all-Big Ten pick, while Rotanz, defenseman Curtis Corley and goalie Dan Morris all earned second team picks.
But there’s a case to be made the most versatile player of the bunch is DiMillo, who has proven every bit as valuable as his recruiting ranking suggested --- just not in predictable fashion.
“I’m actually prouder of him with the role he’s had than if he was a consistent 30-goal scorer,” Carcaterra said. “I’m more impressed with his story with the way it’s played out. I know what he’s meant to that team.”