If you follow Jovan Miller on Twitter at @jovination23 (and if you don't, you should), you know the former Syracuse Orange midfielder isn't shy about his thoughts about bitter rival Johns Hopkins. From beating them for a national championship in 2008, to a 5-0 career record against the Blue Jays (2008-2011), he certainly knows a thing or two about what it takes to beat SU's biggest historical foe.
As the Orange prepare for a rematch against Hopkins with a trip to the Final Four on the line, we caught up with the current Chesapeake Bayhawks midfielder to pick his brain on the rivalry, both as a player and now as an alum.
Since you've experienced it as a player, what makes it such a heated rivalry?
I think the two brands of lacrosse are so different. There's a very disciplined, almost dictatorship approach to how Hopkins conducts the program, and obviously you respect it based on the fact that they have nine national championships, so obviously it's worked for them. And then for our style of play of how it's pretty much very wide open and you're just allowed to toss the ball around and just be your self kind of more of a freelance offense. Just how we play the game offensively, I think the contrast of styles matters. With me being an "up-stater" there's a certain brand of lacrosse that's designated for being an upstate lacrosse player. It's very different from the very conventional Maryland brand of lacrosse. That's probably the most compelling thing about the rivalry.
Why should a neutral fan pull for Syracuse over Hopkins
If you're a fan of fast-paced, run-and-gun type of offense. If you like something where it seems very wide open and there's going to be a lot of action. We are the living brand of an action film. There are explosions and all types of cool stuff when you watch our brand of lacrosse. I think that everybody is a proponent of fast-moving high-action play, and I think that mentality is why you should always pull for Syracuse.
Fans obviously think about history, but do the players think about that at all?
Of course. You don't get those emails or those supporting texts until that week you're playing against Johns Hopkins. Because the rivalry itself goes back to '83 when we won our first championship. I think that's what gave it relevance. It's the only weekend where you actually get a lot of feedback from alumni where they're saying 'Beat Hop' or 'Go Orange.'
How does that affect you as a player? Are you actually more geared up for that game than other ones?
Of course. I think obviously we're very proud of being Syracuse players, number one. But more importantly, you don't want to let down the alumni. I think that when you're speaking with them so much, that is definitely a motivating factor. You don't want to let them down. Obviously you're proud to wear the colors but you always want to pay homage to those that came before you.
What was your favorite memory from a Hopkins game?
I have two. Freshman year. It was March 15, 2008. I scored my first two collegiate goals against Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field. That was pretty cool, I have to say. And then we ended up winning in overtime. Stephen Brooks scored four goals including the game winner, and that was pretty special. And then I'd have to say later that year when we beat Johns Hopkins to win the national championship. So my two were in the same year but those were two very very vivid moments for me in the rivalry.
This team is on the verge of the final four and playing Johns Hopkins at the same time, do you think there's even more pressure than normal on this game?
Yes, because I think all year, we've been the team to beat. I believe going into it we have more pressure because based on how both team's seasons have gone, we are definitely the favorite to win. Because we've been very dominant all year. Also, in the historical context of how good both teams have been - we're talking about 20 national championships between both programs - to have that marquee matchup not be in the Final Four, it's sad for the game of lacrosse. But at the same time, it puts that much more pressure on it. With the pride involved in it, you'd be much more excited going in knowing you just knocked off one of the two best and most dominant programs in the history of the game.
Now that you play professional lacrosse, and there are so many Syracuse and Hopkins players in the league, do you guys put any bets on these games or talk any extra trash?
Yeah, well with Kyle Harrison, since we've been in the league we've always made a gentleman's bet. Nothing too crazy. But for example, last year, if we won, he had to wear a Syracuse t-shirt. But this year, it's going to be where we bet that whoever loses has to do a video saying "Go Hopkins" or "Go Orange" and he has to send it to all of the alumni through his Instagram account or Vine account. It's been very fun. That's the part of it where you're no longer able to contribute on the field, but you're still able to be involved with the rivalry.
Many people have said this year's team is maybe the most balanced Syracuse team since the '08 and '09 championship teams you were a part of. How do you think this team compares to those teams?
I think they're much more talented, and they're much more freelance than we were. If you look across the game of lacrosse, how much higher the scores are. With the shot clocks and the control being put in for the pace of the game, I think they're able to be more effective with our philosophy in general of go-go-go. But I think one thing about this team that I'm more concerned about is that we will have a very tough time with tough teams. I look at this team and I think they're very soft, and that's my biggest problem. I'm just being an objective alumni, they play a very soft brand of ball, and I think that Colgate proved to be a very tough opponent because they are very tough.
Do you think Hopkins can take advantage of that or are they not made for that?
Oh yeah, I think they could take advantage of that. Just look at their coach. He's a tough guy. He's a tough coach to play under, but when you buy into how effective he has been, it's easy to get behind him because of the mentality, because it's his way or the highway. So do I have my concerns? Yes. Even though we beat Hopkins earlier in the year, we struggled doing it. We weren't as crisp as we were in previous games.
What is Syracuse going to have to do between now and Memorial Day to get to #12?
Each round is so different. I think now the biggest trap is you can't look to the Final Four. I think that's the biggest hurdle mentally, to not think about Philadelphia. They need to just think about playing in Annapolis, in front of that crowd, especially a very Maryland-happy crowd. They need to handle that first. The biggest thing is to not look ahead. If they look ahead then they'll lose.
What is the overarching takeaway for fans about this rivalry? What's so big about this?
You're talking about the two most successful lacrosse programs on any level. You can go down the list, and if you're an alum, or a current player, or an aspiring player, there are names from both schools that you can say and you know, even if you're not a fan of Syracuse or Johns Hopkins. That's the significance of the game. I think it's one of the most watched games just because there have been so many big time players that have been attached to the rivalry and to the game.
What makes it still matter to you now that you've been away from it for a few years?
I would have to say it's because of the pride. After your playing days are over, I think I'm just like any other alum who has come through the schools. You're dying and wishing you could be back out there. The only thing you can do now, is just watch and support. And that's so significant because you look at that game in particular and say 'wow, I forgot how good of a time it was playing in such a high-intensity game.'
What would be your one piece of advice for the team heading into this game?
I would definitely just say don't look past them. They have to understand that they're going to be up against it. Just because you're still in Maryland, 30 minutes away from Baltimore where Johns Hopkins University is. They're going to be up against it regardless of how many people are in the stands. You can't look past these boys because they're obviously going to come out very motivated.
Seniors in general, whenever you have that realistic thought that this could be the end. Your level of play always enhances. So I would say for the juniors, sophomores and freshmen, to look at their seniors and say we gotta do it for them, because we don't want this to end for them.
Follow Jovan on Twitter for more.