Defensive torch passed to Nick Grill


Photo by Austin Anderson

Jacksonville failed to score while Nick Grill was on the field in Marquette’s 17-1 victory.

With all the changes to the men’s lacrosse defense this season, there’s a sense of comforting familiarity seeing No. 8 worn by a Grill.

The number was fittingly passed to freshman Nick Grill from his older brother B.J., who wore it in Marquette’s previous four seasons of play.

Head coach Joe Amplo said the brothers play a similar game, despite some subtle differences. He described B.J. as a tad quicker, Nick a tad stronger and, although he said B.J. would kill him for saying it, Nick has a higher lacrosse IQ.

The most stark distinction between the two is their high school resumes. B.J. won two state titles at Bridgewater-Raritan High School, but his individual awards were all regional. He was an under-recruited player at the Division I level until late and had a chip on his shoulder as big as his home state of New Jersey.

Nick, on the other hand, is a two-time high school All-American, the New Jersey Player of the Year in 2016 and the New Jersey Defender of the Year in 2015. He’s also slightly taller, standing at 5-foot-7 as opposed to B.J.’s 5-foot-5. Both were late bloomers, but Nick got looks from Air Force and Rutgers before committing to Marquette as a junior.

“Amplo saw what B.J. was doing and making a name for himself,” Nick said. “He really saw me as that same potential. It really helped with B.J. making a name for himself, really showing that smaller players can definitely play defense at the college level.”

Even with the differences, Nick found himself in a position Saturday his brother was in many times — matching up against the opponent’s top weapon.

His assignment in his first collegiate game was Will Hendrik, a sophomore who scored five goals against Lehigh in Jacksonville’s season opener. Like the rest of Marquette’s defense, Grill silenced his man. Although Hendrik scored the Dolphins’ only goal in the 17-1 Marquette victory, it came after Amplo pulled Grill and the rest of the top defensive unit off the field. Grill was named the BIG EAST Freshman of the Week Monday for his efforts.

“He played within himself,” Amplo said. “He knew his assignment. He knew the kid was a pretty good left-handed dodger … It was a pretty good confidence builder.”

“I played alright,” Grill said. “You can thank (faceoff specialist) Zack Melillo and (goalie) Cole Blazer. It really helps having a great goalie and a great faceoff guy to keep pressure of you.”

Amplo commended Grill for his growth this year. He struggled with his matchup against Fairfield in the fall, but played well against a player with a similar skill set to Hendrik on Penn in a scrimmage last week. Amplo saw it as a good tuneup for Grill’s first regular season test.

“I hope so, because the beginning of the year it was definitely a tough learning curve,” Grill said. “There’s still growth to be had. We were just watching film. There’s still plenty of mistakes I’ve made that I can easily correct.”

Despite his young age, Amplo said he expects Grill to get the top assignment most of the time this season, sharing that job at points with Jackson Ehlert. If the opponent’s top player plays left-handed, expect Grill on him.

“He’s taken after his brother,” Amplo said. “B.J. got the top assignment from day one here as well. It’s in his blood.”

Now it’s just a matter of consistency for the younger Grill who, like B.J. did four years ago, is learning on the job.

“He’s got tremendous talent,” Amplo said. “Can he be a good lacrosse player? Can he understand it’s more mental at this level once you get the physical tools? He’s by no means the player he’s going to be years from now.”