A quick look through the history of Darien boy’s lacrosse will turn up plenty of exceptional players. Collegiate national champions, All-Americans, and team captains at some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the nation are part of the program’s rich history. And yet, in that history, a recent Darien High graduate has truly distinguished himself among the rest. Not with incredible on-the-field numbers or awards, but with something that, on the surface, may actually seem trivial. Ian Burgoyne was chosen by his teammates at the Naval Academy to wear number 40 this year.
There are other programs where jersey numbers have belonged to special players. The number 1 at Maryland is held in extremely high regard. The number 22 at Syracuse has been worn by some of the best players to ever play lacrosse. But number 40 at Navy is different. It transcends lacrosse, athletics, and sport to mean something more.
The legacy of 40 starts with Brendan Looney. Looney grew up in DeMatha, Md., and was a high school football star. Despite being color-blind, Brendan was admitted to the Naval Academy and began his career at Annapolis in 2000. During his sophomore year, Brendan decided to switch sports, and try out for the nationally ranked men’s lacrosse team despite having no organized lacrosse experience.
Brendan made the team, and by his senior year, wearing number 40, led the team to the national championship game. Upon graduation, Brendan completed SEAL training, then married. After he completed a tour in Iraq, he began a tour in Afghanistan in early March 2010. In late September, 2010, Brendan’s helicopter went down in Afghanistan just days prior to his return home, and he was killed at age 29.
Part of Brendan’s legacy is his jersey at Navy. Now, the player to wear 40 is chosen by the team. This year, Ian Burgoyne will wear it, the ninth player to do so since Looney. “You hear a lot of stories about Brendan Looney and the Looney family, particularly what Brendan did for that 2004 team. His leadership, he held people accountable, how tough he was, and how little he complained and just went to work everyday. It’s truly humbling just to be associated with his name,” Burgoyne said.
“Wearing the number 40 goes back to when Brendan was here and the impact he had on his teammates not only as a player, but as a leader. It’s more about the leader than the player, and the player is pretty darn good. You talk to alumni who were his teammates, and man, they just all speak with such high praise of Brendan and the type of leader he was,” said Navy Head Coach Rick Sowell.
Sowell also explained how the team goes about choosing who will wear the number.
“This is voted on amongst the team, the coaches aren’t involved. And we always do it at this time of the year so the freshmen, the plebes, get a chance to get to know the upperclassmen. This vote doesn’t necessarily go to a senior, but in most cases it has,” Sowell said.
“I make our guys not only tell me who should wear the jersey, but explain to me why,” he said.
“The coaches really enjoy reading what people say about their teammates, and in the case of Ian, the type of person that he is to not just his classmates but the younger guys. Part of wearing this jersey is holding your teammates accountable, and that’s where Ian really has a high standard,” he said.
Wearing the number also puts Ian in the very small fraternity of Navy players who have worn it since Looney’s passing. “Those players from 2011 onward have their pictures up on the wall outside coach’s offices. Looking at those names, there are some legends of Navy lacrosse, and it reminds you of what you’re going out and practicing for every single day. It’s truly an honor to be among those people. There were so many on the team, seniors and juniors, who are worthy of wearing it, and I’m just very fortunate to have been voted for it,” added Burgoyne.
Sowell spoke about it actually it is difficult it can be to announce the chosen player.
“I’ll be honest, it’s tough. We announce the winner the last day we can possibly be with our guys, and that’s December 3rd. So I do a year review, get fired up for when we come back, recap the fall, and then we announce the young man that’s been chosen,” Sowell said.
“But it’s tough because there are a number of guys that can wear that uniform and honor it the way that I know Ian will and others have before Ian. So it’s a strange feeling for me, in that I’m happy for the young man the team chose, but every year there are a number of people that get votes, and it’s always very close,” Sowell said.
Wearing 40 at Navy is something that isn’t recognized solely at the Annapolis. The entire college lacrosse community remembers Looney, and honors his sacrifice every year. Every Memorial Day, as the nation honors men and women who made the same sacrifice Brendan did, the lacrosse community remembers Brendan specifically and honors his memory. He’s also remembered at the Army/Navy lacrosse game every year, which will be played for the 100th time this spring.
For some, living up to that honor is a tall task. “We talked, and I texted him the next day. When I first got here, some people were honored to wear the jersey and some guys had been a little nervous about living up to it. And then they go out of their personality to try and live up to it,” said Sowell, “So I told Ian just keep being you. There’s a reason these guys voted for you, and that’s because of who you are. Continue to be who you are.”
With the announcement made on the 3rd, and the NCAA stipulating that no more official team activities can be held until after finals. So what did Burgoyne and the team do after learning of the honor and breaking for finals and then the holidays?
“It was business as usual afterwards. Coach Sowell bought us Chic-Fil-A after our last official practice though,” said Burgoyne.
The honor of wearing 40 isn’t the only mark of distinction for Burgoyne. He was 1/C Brigade Commander this fall — the highest ranking midshipman at the academy, commanding over 4,000 midshipmen. The Brigade Commander also works closely with the Commandant, who runs the academy. If you watched the Army/Navy football game, you saw Ian lead the midshipmen onto the field in Philadelphia.
“In the school there is a system of midshipmen leadership. There are 30 companies, and each has a company commander. There’s 6 battalions, and each has a midshipman battalion commander. There’s two regiments, and then there’s the brigade. And somehow they chose me to be brigade commander, I don’t know what they were thinking putting a lacrosse player up there. But it’s been an awesome experience. I’ve gotten to work with fantastic people. It’s an opportunity to give back and invest in the school that’s given me so much,” said Burgoyne.
Ian stood out before he even left the Darien program. In 2015, Ian wore a jersey of great significance in Darien history: number 12. The number 12 was retired in the early 90’s, last worn by Wes Barton. Barton was unable to play his senior season following a cancer diagnosis, but stayed with the team as a student assistant. After that, no player wore number 12 until Coach Jeff Brameier reactivated it, and gave it to Ian.
“It is awarded annually to the player that most exemplifies Wes Barton’s selfless character, integrity, and leadership,” Brameier said.
Ian remembered that moment when he found out he had been chosen to wear 40 at Navy. “I look back to senior year when Coach B announced that I’d be the one to represent Wes Barton and #12, I was truly humbled by it. And when Coach Sowell announced my name on Sunday in front of the team, the first thing I thought was that same reaction. Did he really just say my name? It definitely feels like it’s come full circle,” Burgoyne said.
Sowell also had heard about Ian’s high school number, “I saw Coach Brameier at the IMLCA Convention. I did a presentation and he came up and we chatted for a few minutes. He reminded me that Ian wore 12 in high school, and man, that is impressive. That says an awful lot about the type of young man that Ian was then, and now four years later as he’s bestowed the honor a number that is held in very high esteem at the naval academy,” said Sowell.
“I have no doubt he will represent that number to the highest degree of integrity.”
Full disclosure: I coached Ian both as a youth lacrosse player and on the high school team in Darien. Any of Ian’s coaches would quickly tell you that he has always been an exceptional leader. When I called Ian for this story, despite having not spoken to him some time, he still greeted me as if we spoke every day, and immediately congratulated me on the birth of my now 6 month old twins. Every word comes across with humility, respect, and genuine care. The leader he has become is something that all of Darien, not just the lacrosse community, can be very proud of.