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Johns Hopkins attackman Jacob Angelus (32) dodges against Maryland defenseman Ajax Zappitello (1) during a game earlier this spring at Homewood Field.

How Johns Hopkins Found Its Playmaker in Jacob Angelus

May 16, 2024
Gary Lambrecht
John Strohsacker

When Johns Hopkins attackman Garrett Degnon, one of seven graduate students on the Blue Jays roster, sizes up his five years spent at Homewood, he cuts his lacrosse experience into two halves.

There were the dark days of COVID, which essentially drove a proud, prestigious program into a ditch that translated into three consecutive losing seasons. The slide began with the national shutdown of collegiate sports in the early spring of 2020, during which the university and 20-year head coach Dave Pietramala parted ways. It continued with a 4-9 finish in an abbreviated 2021 season.

But it was during the second half of the 2022 season under second-year head coach Peter Milliman that Degnon saw renewed hope for Hopkins lacrosse.

As Degnon recalled the encouraging things that happened while the Blue Jays’ 7-9 season was playing out in his junior year, he pointed to what would prove to be an impactful midseason position change.

Milliman decided to move then-junior midfielder Jacob Angelus to attack. It was a decision that has since paid handsome dividends for the Blue Jays.

Angelus, now also a grad student at Homewood, had spent much of his youth quarterbacking offenses — in football and lacrosse. Later, as a four-year varsity lacrosse player at Paul VI High School in Chantilly, Va., he set school career records in goals (218), assists (180) and points (398) and helped Paul VI win a VISSA state title in 2018.

As a freshman at Paul VI, Angelus had committed to Johns Hopkins. He would become a three-time first team All-WCAC and Virginia All-State honoree.

Angelus finished his true junior season at Hopkins with 19 goals and 20 assists, while starting the last seven games as the Blue Jays’ version of point guard, operating deftly behind the goal and showing off the excellent vision and feel for the game that complemented his passing, shooting and dodging skills. At attack, he averaged three points per game.

“[Angelus] didn’t need much of a learning curve after he got moved to attack. He’d been there his whole life. He is one of the most talented and definitely smartest players on our team,” Degnon said.

“Moving him to attack, especially behind the goal and having him on the field for the entire game — the way he sees the field, rides the ball back, pushes us in transition, picks his spots to attack the goal and finds his teammates with the right pass at the right speed — is the main thing that has propelled us the past two years. There is never a question if Jacob is going to show up. He is pretty automatic.”

As Hopkins prepares for its second straight trip to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals — the third-seeded Blue Jays (11-4) face No. 6 seed Virginia (11-5) Sunday at Towson — and try to reach the final four for the first time since 2015, there is no question about who sets the tone as the lead operator of the offense.

In his fifth and final year in a Blue Jays uniform, the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Angelus has shined throughout the 2024 campaign. Hopkins, which has won nine NCAA titles, has ascended once again to top-five status nationally while winning its first regular-season outright title in the Big Ten by going 5-0.

Angelus leads Hopkins with 63 points, bolstered by a team-high 39 assists. He has scored 24 goals, with a sparkling 50 percent shooting percentage. The numbers speak to his consistency.

Angelus has earned recognition by being named to the All-Big Ten second team and being selected honorable mention All-American.

“My time here has been like a rolling coaster ride, with the COVID shutdown and the loss of our coaches and the COVID restrictions with no fall ball before that and only getting to play 13 games against our [Big Ten] conference in ’21, to helping to make it feel like Hopkins lacrosse has come back the past two years,” Angelus said.

“Moving back to my old position was still a huge adjustment, because the college game is so different than the high school game,” he added. “It helps that we have one of the best defenses in the country and our guys give our offense their best shot in practice every day. I’ve worked on taking more risks this year [as a scorer], especially when I’ve got a short stick [defender] on me. Playing tough and different Big Ten defenses has definitely made me better.”

He’s not afraid to try things most guys won’t try, like floating a pass over the defense with his off hand while moving behind the goal. He’s one of those rare guys.

Johns Hopkins coach Peter Milliman

Angelus gave the Blue Jays a heap of his outstanding distributor skills last year, when Hopkins returned to relative normalcy with a 12-6 finish, marking the Blue Jays’ first winning season since 2018. He and Degnon became one of the game’s notable 1-2 punches, and they have kept it going in 2024.

Degnon credits Angelus for many of his team-high 44 goals. He is now tied for second in Hopkins history with 159 career goals.

“I struggle seeing the field when I dodge. Jacob’s ability to know where everybody is running and cutting while he is running by [defenders] is special,” said Degnon, who called it a luxury to play with a director who has unerring accuracy as a passer. “Different passes need to go through a defense at different speeds. Whether [Angelus] is throwing me a skip pass or touch pass at whatever angle or distance, it’s like I never have to move my stick.”

John Crawley, Hopkins’ second-year offensive coordinator, marvels at the economy and calm in Angelus’ game. With the ability to change direction suddenly and create space to take an open shot or scan the defense to diagnose a tempting pass to an open teammate, Angelus seems to play with a glide on light feet. His teammates know they had better have their heads up and sticks ready if the quarterback identifies them as a target.

“When I took this job in ’22 and started watching a lot of film, Angel’s game jumped out at me,” Crawley said. “He thinks the game at a high level. He grades high in lot of things we chart, like hockey assists or good feeds that don’t result in goals.

“He is super competitive, always in control with such poise. He’s gotten so good at picking his spots — when to press, when to shoot, how to work off ball, how to set people up for a feed. He helps people around him be in control. He is our point guard.”

“It doesn’t look like Jacob is dominating the game, because of his patience and the way he’s not too flashy. He’s always trying to find offense without the offense being about him,” Milliman said. “But he’s not afraid to try things most guys won’t try, like floating a pass over the defense with his off hand while moving behind the goal. He’s one of those rare guys who has the athleticism and skill set and aptitude to be really good at this game.”

Sophomore midfielder Matt Collison, who came up huge in Sunday’s 13-10 come-from-behind victory over a solid, pesky Lehigh team with four goals — one of them early, following a slick, pick-and-roll feed from Angelus — said his offensive leader amazes him with his creativity while watching him on tape. Angelus has been named to the Academic All-Big Ten Team three times.

“Jacob is good at manipulating defenses, like by turning his head to get a defender to leave his man to help with a double team, then feeding one of our guys for an easy goal on a power play. I’ve been on the receiving end of some of those,” said Collison, who ranks third on the team with 23 goals. “He studies the game hard. He has taught me a lot about watching film. He has been the epitome of what a quarterback and a teammate should be.”

The proof resides in the numbers. After his two-goal, two-assist performance against Lehigh, Angelus ranks 13th in career points at Hopkins with 195. He is fifth in career assists with 120, just four shy of tying Wells Stanwick in second place. His 39 assists this year leave him tied for ninth in school history with Dave Marr

In 2024, Angelus has averaged 4.2 points and scored no fewer than two points while starting every contest. His highlights include a six-point day (3,3) in a season-opening overtime loss to Denver, a seven-point showing (3,4) in a 13-7 rout over Loyola and an eight-point eruption (3,5) in a 13-8 victory over Rutgers.

“I just want to win and keep playing with these guys. I’ve got to stay calm and composed and be the guy my teammates can lean on,” Angelus said. “I look back and think about the tough things that have made us stronger. We’ve been able to put our heads down and do the work to get this program back to being a top-five team. Through lots of adversity, we’ve learned to stick it out for each other, no matter what.”