There are programs where jersey numbers have belonged to special players. No. 1 at Maryland is held in extremely high regard. No. 22 at Syracuse has been worn by some of the best players to ever play lacrosse. But No. 40 with the Navy Midshipmen is different. It transcends lacrosse, athletics, and sport to mean something more.
The legacy of No. 40 starts with Brendan Looney. Looney grew up in DeMatha, 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 No. 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.
Now, part of Brendan’s legacy is his jersey at Navy. The player that will wear No. 40 is chosen by the team. This year, Ian Burgoyne will wear the number, becoming the 9th 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,” Burgoyne said. “His leadership, how 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.”
“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,” said Navy head coach Rick Sowell. “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 they just all speak with such high praise of Brendan and the type of leader he was.”
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.
“I make our guys not only tell me who should wear the jersey, but explain to me why. 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.”
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,” Burgoyne added. “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.”
Sowell spoke about how it is actually difficult to announce the player chosen to wear the number.
“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. 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.”
Wearing 40 at Navy is something that isn’t recognized solely at Annapolis. The entire college lacrosse community remembers Looney and honors his sacrifice every year. Every Memorial Day, the nation honors men and women who made the same sacrifice Brendan did, and lacrosse games played across the country feature moments of silence and reflection for those who served. He’s also remembered at the annual Army-Navy lacrosse game every year, which will be played for the 100th time on April 13 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
For some, living up to that honor is a tall task.
“We talked, and I texted him [Burgoyne] the next day,” Sowell said. “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. 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.”
The magnitude of the honor isn’t lost on Burgoyne either.
“I’ll definitely reach out to the Looney family at some point just to say what an honor it is to be associated with their son and their brother. The Brendan Looney and Travis Manion connection has a huge impact on Navy sports. Manion passed away in 2007, and he and Brendan are buried next to each other in Arlington National Cemetery. That sort of connection has driven me and been a source of motivation. I’ve been in contact with the Travis Manion Foundation and put them in touch with some of the brigade leadership to bring that impact closer to the school again. Those names are synonymous with Navy sports and the determination and work ethic we pride ourselves on.”
The honor of wearing 40 isn’t the only mark of distinction for Burgoyne. He was Brigade Commander this fall - the most senior midshipman at the Naval Academy. The Brigade Commander also works closely with the Commandant, who runs the academy. If you watched the Army-Navy football game, you saw Burgoyne 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 six 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.”
“I have no doubt he will represent that number to the highest degree of integrity,” Sowell said.
The No. 40 announcement was made on December 3, and the NCAA states that no 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 the holidays?
“It was business as usual afterwards,” Burgoyne said. “Coach Sowell bought us Chick-fil-A after our last official practice though.”