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Dante Trader

Dante Trader Jr. Couldn't Resist the Pull of Lacrosse

March 16, 2023
Patrick Stevens
John Strohsacker

Dante Trader Jr. couldn’t quite bring himself to attend Maryland lacrosse games last spring, his first when he wasn’t playing the sport in more than a decade.

“I missed it,” he said. “I missed it a lot.”

Instead, the Terrapins’ run to an undefeated season provided an opportunity to spend quality time watching lacrosse on television with his dad.

At the time, Trader was a promising but relatively untested safety coming off his first college football season. There was playing time to be had and, sure enough, he claimed a starting job and emerged as Maryland’s second-leading tackler.

But he didn’t forget about lacrosse.

“The decision this year was a no-brainer,” said Trader, who like Navy attackman Xavier Arline and Virginia midfielder Ricky Miezan is a football player rediscovering his lacrosse roots this spring. “If I was healthy, I was playing. I just felt a lot of people had doubts. I had something to prove that playing two sports isn’t easy, but I’m going to do it.”

Trader had played lacrosse since he was 7 and growing up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He followed the exploits of the Terps’ 2017 national team, citing Matt Rambo, Colin Heacock and especially Isaiah Davis-Allen — who like him is Black — as his favorite players. Closer to home, he fondly recalls Salisbury teams featuring stars like Sam Bradman and Thomas Cirillo.

The appeal was in the fast pace, the ability to have control and the onus to make plays in an instinctive manner. But maybe the best part was the camaraderie, and that’s what drew him to John Tillman’s program.

When football became a more viable option as he went deeper into his career at the McDonogh School in the Baltimore suburbs, Terps football coach Mike Locksley offered him the chance to come to Maryland and play two.

Maryland’s solution to help get him back into things is to split the field in half. Short-stick defensive midfield is a position of need for Maryland thanks to graduation losses, but Tillman isn’t counting out an offensive cameo.

For now, maintaining Trader’s availability is Tillman’s priority, especially after the sophomore logged 20 weeks of football starting with preseason practice and ending with a bowl game victory in late December.

“He earned everybody’s respect a long time ago,” Tillman said. “Staying on the field is the most important thing.”

Four days after football season began, the former top-five lacrosse recruit was on the practice field for the defending national champions. Trader said he didn’t pick up a stick between high school and the start of preseason practice this year, and it wasn’t realistic for him to begin exactly where he left off before arriving in College Park.

Still, he was encouraged by the early returns.

“It was like a slow burn,” Trader said. “You see me doing more and more every practice, getting more and more comfortable, allowing my skill set to come out. The first day I was antsy because I didn’t know how it was going to go. I thought, ‘This is either going to go really bad or really good,’ and I felt it was in the middle, which is good. The guys knew I hadn’t played in years.”

It hasn’t taken long to figure things out. Trader scored twice in Maryland’s February 18 victory over Syracuse and added an assist a week later at Princeton. He also had eight ground balls and three caused turnovers as the Terps went 3-1 in February. He has three goals, one assist and 15 ground balls in the Terps’ 4-2 start.

Trader’s typical day doesn’t leave much free time: early-morning lifts, class, treatment, meetings, practice, getting home at 7 or 8 p.m. He said he works with a sports psychiatrist to manage the mental load.

“I’ll lay it out here for anybody that wants to do it, is considering it or just wants to know and get the elephant out of the room,” Trader said. “This is one of the harder things I’ve done, mentally and physically.”

But therein lies the challenge. Pair it with his own joy for lacrosse, and it was an opportunity difficult to resist.

“What brought me back was the fact that one was my dream and I had to complete the dream,” Trader said. “And if I didn’t do it, I was going to regret it. There’s a time for everything, and I felt this was the perfect time to do it before I get even more into my football career.”