Aug. 2, 2005
By Bo Rottenborn
The Monogram Club’s “Tuesday Testimonial” series returns this week with three-time All-America lacrosse player Todd Rassas, who was one of the nation’s top defensemen during his career (1995-98). A third-generation Irish student-athlete – and half of one of two father-son All-America duos in Notre Dame history – Rassas, who now works for the United States Secret Service (U.S.S.S.), talks about his love for his alma mater and how he carries that with him in his current endeavors, which include chasing a second lacrosse world championship as a part of the U.S. national team.
Originally from Northfield, Ill., Rassas was a two-time all-state selection at Loyola Academy, where he also played football. Like the famed Dan “Rudy” Ruettiger and many before and after him, Rassas spent a year at nearby Holy Cross College before earning acceptance to Notre Dame in 1994. He immediately became a regular for the Irish lacrosse team, playing a big role on the ’95 squad that upset #5 Duke 12-10 to become the first Notre Dame team ever to reach the NCAA quarterfinals.
Todd Rassas was a member of the first Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team to reach the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament, the 1995 squad that upset #5 Duke 12-10 in the opening round.
Rassas would develop into a dominating defenseman, holding some of the nation’s top midfielders scoreless over the next three seasons. An excellent one-on-one defender, he became adept at taking players out of their offensive games and was exceptional at forcing turnovers. A strong and physical player, Rassas was tabbed an All-American by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) in each of his final three seasons despite playing for a Notre Dame team that was only beginning to become a bona fide presence among the national elite. He was listed on the second team in 1997, as well as the third team in ’96 and ’98. Rassas, who was on squads that set school records in goals allowed per game (7.2 in 1996) and man-down defense (opponents were 7-64, 10.9% in ’96, a record that still stands), was three times a first-team all-Great Western Lacrosse League (GWLL) selection and finished his career with 194 ground balls, which still stands as the second-most ever by an Irish defenseman.
His time away from Notre Dame has seen Rassas stay involved with lacrosse. Though his professional responsibilities have allowed him to play just one season in Major League Lacrosse (2003 with the New Jersey Pride), he is currently a member of the Capital Lacrosse Club of the United States Club Lacrosse Association (USCLA), which is located just outside the District of Columbia. For more information, see www.uscla.com/teams/capital.cfm.
Rassas earned a spot on the U.S. national team in 2002 and helped it to win the International Lacrosse Federation World Championship with an 18-15 triumph over rival Canada in the title game in Perth, Australia. Earlier this summer, he became one of just seven players from that squad to also gain a spot on the latest U.S. national team, which will go for the nation’s seventh consecutive world title, this time on Canadian soil, in July 2006 in London, Ontario. Of the 23 players on the ’06 national team, only two – Rassas and Joe Walters (who will be a senior at Maryland in the fall) – do not currently play in MLL.
Todd was the fourth Rassas to be a varsity student-athlete at Notre Dame, following in the footsteps of three football players: grandfather George (left end, 1938-40), father Nick (safety, 1963-65), and uncle Kevin (defensive end, 1965-67), who played on the 1966 national-championship team. Nick Rassas began his career as a walk-on, but eventually turned into a two-year starter and a consensus first-team All-American in his final season. In ’65, he made six interceptions (which was tied for eighth in the NCAA) and also returned three punts for touchdowns. His punt-return TD total still stands tied for first on both the season (with only Allen Rossum, 1996) and career (with four others) Irish lists. Rassas then played three seasons in the National Football League (NFL) for the Atlanta Falcons.
Nick Rassas returned three punts for touchdowns in 1965, a total that still stands as tied for the most ever by a Notre Dame player in a career, let alone a single season.
When Todd became an All-American for the first time in 1996, he and Nick joined a very elite club. Only once previously had a father and son both been All-Americans for Notre Dame: pole vaulters Paul (1924-26, the NCAA champion in his final season) and Jim (1952-54) Harrington.
Like the Rassas family, Loyola Academy also has a long history of producing Notre Dame student-athletes, as it has turned out more than 20 Irish competitors in various sports. Among them are former football All-American and two-time national champion Bert Metzger (1928-30) and current basketball player Colin Falls.
Rassas’ first assignment with the Secret Service was in the New York field office, located in the World Trade Center. He was at his desk on Sept. 11, 2001, when the first airplane hit the building. Rassas wrote a stirring account of both his experiences on that day and how that impacted his run to the ’02 world championship. That article was first printed in the September/October 2002 issue of Lacrosse magazine and has been reprinted with permission in various Notre Dame publications, including as page six of the 2005 men’s lacrosse media guide. That article is available in pdf format here.
Now living in northern Virginia and working with a special operation section within the U.S.S.S. that is assigned to protect President George W. Bush, Rassas is married to another Notre Dame graduate. He and Angela are expecting their first child.
Tuesday Testimonial – Entry #7, Todd Rassas (men’s lacrosse, `98); July 29, 2005
Todd Rassas finished his career with 194 ground balls and helped set Irish season records for goals allowed per game and man-down defense.
“As a third-generation athlete at the University of Notre Dame, my experience was more than most could imagine. Growing up with a father who was an ND football All-American made it pretty tough to want to go to college anywhere else. As it turned out, I think I could give `Rudy’ a run for his money in a contest of who loved Notre Dame more.
“Playing a varsity sport at Notre Dame was a childhood dream of mine. My father was, and is, my hero, and I wanted to accomplish everything that he had. However, graduating high school at 6-2, 170 pounds, I was not the ideal Notre Dame football player, so I decided to focus on lacrosse. I was unsuccessful with my first attempt to be accepted to ND. Like `Rudy’ I attended Holy Cross College for a year and successfully transferred. I walked on to the lacrosse team and finally became a Notre Dame varsity athlete.
“Walking the campus my freshman year knowing that my father and grandfather once played here was almost spiritual. In 1995, I was able to play on one of the greatest lacrosse teams in Notre Dame history. There were more guys on that team that were true competitors than on any other team for which I have ever played. Guys like Randy Colley, Mike Iorio, and Will Sutton forced the younger guys to play their best every day. That team was the first to break into the second round (quarterfinals) of the NCAA tournament. I believe that team brought the Notre Dame lacrosse program to a new level.
Nick Rassas was a first-team All-American for the Irish football team in 1965 after originally joining the squad as a walk-on.
“In my sophomore and junior years, we were invited to the NCAA tournament, but fell short in the first round both times. My senior year was a disappointment, as it was the first time that we would not even make it to the NCAA tournament. I played my last game at Moose Krause Stadium, and when it was over, I was not ready to leave. My dad came and sat with me, and we walked off the field together. To this day, my dad and I comprise one of only two father-son All-American duos in ND history. It is the only tribute that I truly cherish.
“Sometimes I look back on my career and wonder `what if?’ But every single time I come to the same conclusion: I would never exchange my experience for any championship ring or national-championship trophy. The friends that I made, and the people I met fulfilled more than any trophy or ring ever could. Lacrosse is a team sport, and the personal awards are nice, but winning as a team is that much better. I still am in contact with several of my teammates from over the years. They seem to become family more than friends. I just wish I could see more of them.
Todd Rassas is one of just seven players who will suit up for the U.S. national team again in 2006 after helping the United States claim the ’02 world championship.
“As a member of Team USA, I always make sure that people know that I am from Notre Dame. Every time I buckle my chinstrap, I feel that I am a representation of my grandfather, father, and all the athletes that have played or will play at Notre Dame. At the tryouts for the U.S. national team this summer, I was able to play with another Domer, senior-to-be D.J. Driscoll. I had never met him, but immediately felt that we had been friends or teammates for years. Each year the Notre Dame lacrosse program makes new strides and will continue to excel at the Division I level.
“After Graduating from Notre Dame, I became a United States Secret Service agent. My first assignment was in the New York field office. Our office at the time was World Trade 7. I was at the office on 9/11 and experienced things that I do not think any individual ever should. I saw several people lose their lives that day, which has changed my life forever. I believe all of my trips to The Grotto helped me survive that day.
“Currently, I am married, living in northern Virginia, and detailed to a special operation section within the U.S.S.S. which is assigned to protect the president. My wife Angela, who also graduated from ND, and I are now expecting our first child and maybe looking forward to a fourth-generation Domer. I cannot wait to take her on her first trip to Notre Dame to see a football game, the band, and the Golden Dome. I hope that at age five, she will learn that exit 77 is the one you want, like I did. Notre Dame will always have a special place in our family. I am reminded of those days each time I am able to return. I hate to visit too long, though, because it just makes me want to relive the glory days.
“I am now chasing one more dream – to win another world championship. It is difficult to balance a full-time job and lacrosse career. My father’s famous quote that always keeps me going is `How bad do you want it?’ During my seemingly-endless hours of training, I picture the days of coach [Kevin] Corrigan sending us on wind sprints, and what it was like when coach [Ara] Parseghian was sending my dad on his. I train for the guys I feel should have had national-championship rings, like coach Corrigan, Jimmy Keenan, Alex Cade, Burke Hayes, and Adam Sargent. I would not have a gold medal without them. I think of them each time I step on the field. Next year, the night before the World Games open, I will be in some dorm room in London, Ontario, with a teammate who is wondering why I am watching the movie `Rudy.”
Do you have a recommendation of a former Notre Dame student-athlete to participate in the “Tuesday Testimonial” series? If so, please pass on the individual’s name and contact info. (if available) to Monogram Club archivist/publicist Pete LaFleur at firstname.lastname@example.org.