Two consecutive hip surgeries usually spell the end for an athlete's career.
However, walk-on Penn men's lacrosse junior goalie Alex Andersen is not your typical athlete. After injuries forced the premature end of one career, a new one began for him this spring.
The origins of his collegiate lacrosse career didn't come on Penn’s campus, however. Rather, they came back at his alma mater, Radnor High School, where he was a two-sport standout in football and lacrosse.
Over Thanksgiving break last fall, his school had an alumni lacrosse game where he played particularly well, especially considering that he had not played organized lacrosse since leading his team to the Pennsylvania state championship his senior year.
“One of my buddies said, ‘man, you should totally come out of retirement and play at Penn,’” Andersen reflected. “I didn’t really think much of it.”
Andersen was particularly pushed by former teammates Tom Meyers and Jack Wilson, who play lacrosse at the University of Massachusetts and University of Maryland, respectively.
Thus, after realizing his football career was over, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound former offensive lineman decided to reach out to Penn coach Mike Murphy over winter break about walking on.
As Andersen put it:
“The rest is history.”
Currently, Andersen is behind starting junior goalie Reed Junkin and talented sophomore backup Alex DeMarco on the depth chart. Still, where he lands on the depth chart was not a factor in his decision to return to lacrosse.
“I wanted to be able to come in and push those guys to get better. It really doesn’t matter to me exactly where anything with the depth chart lies. That wasn’t my focus going in,” Andersen said. “My focus was that I wanted to come in and make Penn lacrosse better and have fun doing it.”
Even with two established goalies, Murphy was pumped when he heard Andersen wanted to return to lacrosse.
“I was really excited. He’s a great kid and a really good athlete, and we never turn one of those down.”
Additionally, it did not take long for Andersen to get acquainted with his new teammates. He already knew a few of them.
Growing up, Andersen played for one of the top club lacrosse teams in the country in Mesa Fresh. From his class alone, the club produced 19 Division-I lacrosse players, including current teammates junior defensemen Mike Mulqueen and Noah Lejman.
Throughout his high school career, the current backup goalie was arguably more touted as a goalie than as a lineman, given the Ivy league’s prowess in lacrosse compared to football.
Andersen visited Penn’s campus his sophomore year as a lacrosse recruit. However, the nature of college lacrosse recruiting at the time pushed prospects to commit early, oftentimes by ninth grade. By 10th grade, most of his peers were committed.
When his junior year rolled around, he let the various schools recruiting him know that he was leaning heavily towards playing football in college.
“If an opportunity for lacrosse came up later in my junior year, maybe I would have looked at it then,” Andersen said. “But having to choose between the two sports that early was a decision I didn’t want to have to make.”
Despite not being able to suit up for Penn football again, Andersen found ways to stay involved.
After he told football coach Ray Priore that he could no longer play following the 2016 season, the two-time Ivy league champion coach told Andersen he wanted him to stick around as an offensive assistant.
“He said, ‘we still want you here now’ and really let me be apart of the family even though I wasn’t playing,” Andersen said with a smile. "He’s just a great guy and I really wanted to thank him for the opportunity to be a part of something special with Penn football.”
Andersen could have sulked about how injuries robbed him of the back half his football career or how he is not receiving a lot of playing time this season.
That is not how he is wired.
“I try to bring the juice as much as I can, bring energy to practice everyday, and get better every single day.”
Murphy has taken note of Andersen’s enthusiasm and found many ways to utilize the goalie as he shakes off nearly three years away from the game.
“He’s given us [looks] in practice if we need a bigger goalie or a right-handed goalie based on the scout," Murphy said. "He steps up and does a great job."
While Murphy thinks it will take a year for Andersen to shake off the rust and get his lacrosse body back, he did not rule out the possibility of Andersen challenging Junkin or DeMarco on the depth chart a year from now.
“If he gets back to 100 percent physically and gets his technique down again, I think he can compete for a starting job,” Murphy said of the former lineman.
From injured offensive lineman to walk-on lacrosse goalie, Andersen may be more than just a feel-good story come next spring.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.