All I could hear was the sound of my heart pounding against my chest. The capacity crowd was eerily silent. My vision was acute and my breath, labored. I scooped up the ball. I glanced at the clock and only seconds remained as I charged toward my opponents. I weaved maniacally through each desperate defender, inching closer and closer to the goal. My focus sharpened and time seemed to stand still. This was the biggest lacrosse game of my life, the moment for which I had endlessly trained, and I was playing in front of my hometown crowd in Atlanta. With a second left on the clock, I looked up and saw my window of opportunity. I fired away.
“Scott Ratliff, from Atlanta Georgia, takes the shot and scooooores!”
The crowd went wild. Rather, berserk!
Me — a kid from Atlanta — had just scored the game-winning goal. I just proved the world wrong!
… or so I imagined.
Those big, looming defenders were actually just a group of tall Georgia pines with long, reaching branches that littered my backyard with pine straw and doubled as my field turf. The crowd … oh, well, a kid can dream can’t he?
I couldn’t have been more than six. While other kids were playing video games, I dreamed of scoring game-winning goals, playing the sport I loved, even way back then. I loved to run around my backyard, especially in the spring, when the Bermuda grass was thick and vibrant green, creating last-second plays and scoring game-winning goals. My house sat on a hill, full of those big aggressive defenders — err, pine trees. The ground was uneven and didn’t offer many flat spots, except for one little grassy area about 10 by 20 yards in size. That somehow morphed into my classroom for the game of lacrosse.
One of my most vivid memories was when my dad brought me over to that open spot to teach me how to faceoff. My father, Randy Ratliff, was a two-time All-American and two-time captain at the University of Maryland from 1976 to 1979. He was a stud. He was my idol. He was the genesis for my love of lacrosse.
I was ready for my faceoff lesson, fully equipped with one of his old sticks from college; white, metal shaft topped with a heavy, red plastic head and complete with traditional leather strings. (STX, circa 1976.) He had cut down the stick for me so I could handle it better. (I still own it … in fact, it’s tattooed on my arm.)
Dad called out, “ Down! Set … ”We got down on one knee, standard faceoff position.
He was lightning quick, and then: SMACK! My dad won the faceoff, and during the battle, had accidentally hit me in the nose. Tears rolled down my face.
“Welcome to lacrosse, son," he said. It would be my first, but certainly not my last lesson the relentless and unforgiving sport would teach me over the years.
As I got a little older, I played in the Atlanta Youth Lacrosse League at Murphy Candler Park in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, Georgia. Lacrosse was so new in Atlanta that this league only had three other teams, so we played them over and over throughout the spring. I didn’t care, though. I had fallen in love with the game. It had its grip on me. From that youth league on, my goals were clear-cut and defined:
Play Division I lacrosse at Maryland.
Be a 2X All-American at Maryland.
Be a 2X captain at Maryland.
Be like my dad.
During my first two years of high school, I played offensive midfield. With my father’s knowledge of the sport, he recognized that if I ever wanted to play at the next level, my best bet was to switch to a long pole. As a junior, that’s exactly what I did, playing both defense and long stick midfield (LSM). The transition felt natural. That summer, I continued to play long pole at various tournaments and camps. I did everything I could to be recruited by any Division I program willing to give me a look … especially Maryland. My ability to compete at the D-I level was never a doubt for me. I was confident because I successfully defended players who had already committed to top D-I programs, several of whom had even committed to Maryland, the program that had become the object of my obsession.
Despite all my efforts though, I still wasn’t getting any looks. Zero calls.
In my junior year, Maryland finally gave me some late attention, but ultimately, it wasn’t enough. I remember so vividly the day the call came in. The legendary Coach Slav phoned my dad and relayed a message from head coach Dave Cottle. The message: Maryland decided to go a “different direction” and would not be extending me an offer to play. Actually, the direct feedback was, I was good, but based on size and athleticism, I would probably be a better fit at a mid-major school.
How could they have passed on me? How could they turn away the legacy of a former 2X All-American and 2X captain from Maryland? Even today, memories and details of that call overwhelm me with emotion.
I was from Atlanta … and no one wanted me. It started to become apparent why I was not getting any D-I opportunities. Atlanta was not known for producing blue-chip lacrosse athletes — something being the son of a Maryland lacrosse standout couldn’t make up. Whether my perception of how programs viewed Atlanta was true or not, it felt real, and I still believe that, to this day, it limited my opportunities. Looking back, that was one of those moments that define you. It changed me. My goals began to pivot. The fire burned hotter than ever. Instead of playing at Maryland, I became focused on proving everyone wrong. It became my obsession to make them see what I already knew to be true. The kid from Atlanta can play. My internal motivation and drive became hyper-focused on making those coaches, especially Coach Cottle, regret not offering me the opportunity to play. New goals:
2X All-American at a D-I program.
2X captain at a D-I program.
As I entered my senior year, my high school team needed more help on offense, so I transitioned back to midfield with a short pole. No matter my role on the team, how consuming my obsession to prove everyone wrong, or how heavy the chip on my shoulder, I never lost sight of my goals. It was the driving force behind everything I did.
During Christmas vacation, an offer rolled in to play at the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS). This was a one-year prep-level program that was designed to transition athletes to play the following year at the United States Naval Academy, a D-I program. Although I was excited about this offer, it would require me to play a year of prep, which didn’t fit my vision of playing D-I right away.
Spring came fast. I knew internally how much was riding on having a good final season of high school. It would be my last chance to garner some exposure and prove my abilities on the field. The clock was ticking and I was running out of time.
One of my high school coaches had played at Loyola, a small liberal arts school in Baltimore. Coach approached his alma mater regarding my desire to play D-I lacrosse. Even though they were a small school, their lacrosse program was still D-I. Loyola informed him there was an outside chance they may pick up another player. Key word: outside.
I took a trip down to Seaside Beach, FL, on spring break with some friends, but had to drive back alone three days earlier than everyone else for lacrosse practice. My phone rang while passing through a small, rural town in South Georgia. It was Charley Toomey, the head coach at Loyola.
The outside chance had suddenly become a reality. Coach Toomey explained they had a roster spot open up late due to a player not meeting the grade requirements. His misfortune became my opportunity. He didn’t have much scholarship money, but the spot was mine if I wanted it. Coach Toomey knew of my opportunity with NAPS and gave me the advice to call Coach Meade at Navy before making any decisions. Six hours remained in my car ride to process what just transpired.
I didn’t need six hours. I knew the moment I hung up the phone that I was going to be a Greyhound. New goals had just been established:
2X All-American at Loyola.
2X captain at Loyola
My career at Loyola started off slowly. I was one of three LSMs on the team, third in line behind a sophomore and a tenured senior. The learning curve from high school to college was steep. As a freshman, the only field time I saw was on our man-down unit during penalty kills (a defensive package for when the other team is on man-up, also known as a power play).
Our final game of the season was against Johns Hopkins, and coach told us we were going to run a three-LSM rotation in attempt to slow down Hopkins’ high-powered midfielder, Michael Kimmel, who had tormented defenses.
Every time Kimmel touched the ball, I smothered him. I completely shut him down … even causing a few turnovers. Although we ended up losing that game, my performance had earned me a starting position. I was now Loyola’s number-one long pole. Yes, me — the kid from Atlanta.
I exploded into my sophomore year. Fifteen pounds heavier and hungrier than ever, I was confident in my role with the Hounds and ready for success. The season didn’t quite pan out as I hoped. We were a young team and finished the year with one of Loyola’s worst seasons to date, a 9-7 record. We didn’t make it into our conference tournament. We dropped out of the Top-20 for the first time in years. Instead of a season of success, the Hounds were now farther from the National Championship than ever before.
It was rough. We hit a low. Though despite the troubling season and the challenges of a young team, I never lost focus. The goals I’d been chasing for years kept echoing in my head like a chant:
2X All-American at Loyola.
2X captain at Loyola.
2012. This was our year. The coaches came back fired up, exuding a contagious energy. They implemented new play calls, new drills, and a new culture. The Greyhounds were more motivated than ever. Our new philosophy was to play fast and out-shoot the opponent. And out-shoot we did. As a pole, I finished that season with 12 goals. Even better, I was named team captain.
We finished the regular season 14-1 and ranked No. 1 in the country.
We were hot.
When the tournament bracket came out, my dad filled one out, signed it and dated it. He had Loyola and Maryland making it to the finals — with the Hounds, not Terps, winning the trophy.
I hoped my dad was right. There was no team I wanted to play more, and no team I wanted to beat more than the team that had passed on me. Maryland’s last title was in 1975, the year before my dad got there. And now I had the chance to show Coach Cottle (who wasn’t even there anymore) and everyone else associated with Maryland lacrosse that they made a mistake — a big mistake — not recruiting Randy Ratliff’s son.
The week leading up to the Final Four was awesome. Texts, phone calls, local media, social media; the support I was receiving was overwhelming, but nonetheless, reassuring. I knew that anyone who knew anything about lacrosse in Atlanta was behind me. That meant a lot to me. In fact, it meant everything to me.
I saw people posting on Facebook about our games, who during high school, didn't even know lacrosse existed. I saw a sport that was barely sanctioned during high school now being featured on the front page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the only major daily newspaper in the Atlanta metro area. The feature story was about the first athlete to potentially become a D-I NCAA men’s lacrosse champion from the Peach State.
That person was me — the kid from Atlanta.
Despite all this attention, I couldn’t have felt more calm and confident. I had amazing teammates, amazing coaches, and I knew we were in the right mindset. We were going to win it all. Time to focus.
First round: Loyola 17, Canisius 5.
Second round: Loyola 10, Denver 9.
Third round: Loyola 7, Notre Dame 5.
We made it to the fourth round, the championship. And of all the teams, we were scheduled to battle it out with Public Enemy No. 1: Maryland. It was going to be a bloodbath.
The championship was held at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, home of the New England Patriots. Thirty-thousand fans filled the seats. The energy and excitement were electric. It instantly invigorated my teammates and me and when the whistle blew and the game was underway, we played like warriors.
My assignment was Drew Snider, Maryland’s captain and prolific shooter from the midfield position … one of the fiercest offensive weapons in the country. Challenge accepted.
I remember glancing at the clock, deep in the fourth quarter with eight minutes left. We were up 7-3. I told the rest of our rope squad (Kyle Duffy, Pat Laconi, and Josh Hawkins) that we needed to stay focused and finish what we started. I saw it in their eyes … I knew it deep down inside … we were going to win that game. It was our moment. It was what I dreamed of for nearly as long as I could remember. There were no doubts in my mind.
Our offense found the back of the net two more times that quarter. And then it happened … three seconds … two seconds … one … game over.
Final. Loyola 9, Maryland 3.
The first time in Greyhound’s history, we were the NCAA D-I Men’s Lacrosse Champions. On top of that, we set a NCAA record for fewest goals allowed in a championship game, which still stands today. Amid the chaos and celebration, I made it over to the sideline and looked up into the sea of fans. There he was — my proud father, my hero — wearing not Terps red, but Greyhound green and grey. A huge smile filled his face. It is a moment I will cherish forever.
The realization of what just happened finally hit me, and I became flooded with emotion. During the bus ride home, from Boston to Baltimore, the entire team put our phones away for the full eight hours and just enjoyed one another’s company. All of our hard work and sacrifice was vindicated. We were all among the company of champions.
Following the tournament, the 2012 season awards and honors were announced. Junior LSM from Loyola, Scott Ratliff — the kid from Atlanta — was named All American.
I was halfway there.
1X All-American at Loyola.
1X captain at Loyola.
A little tiny piece of the chip on my shoulder fell off that day. But I wasn't done. I still had more to prove.
I came back my senior season with a fierce appetite, wanting to earn the title of captain, All-American, and back-to-back champion. Individually, I improved statistically in all categories and had the honor to serve, again, as captain. Unfortunately, our team ended up falling short of repeating as national champion, losing to Duke in the first round in double-overtime, 11-12. Despite the season-ending loss, the 2013 season awards and honors were announced, and once again, me — the kid from Atlanta — was named All-American.
2X All-American at Loyola.
2X captain at Loyola.
I did it. I was able to follow in the footsteps of my hero — my dad.
And, oh yeah, it didn’t hurt that I had a national championship, defeating the team that I dreamed of suiting up for one day.
In the MLL draft, I was selected ninth-overall by the Boston Cannons. Although ecstatic to play at such a successful, established franchise, the roster was already stacked with five talented LSMs. It was freshman year at Loyola all over again, but I was no stranger to being underestimated. The kid from Atlanta, again, had something to prove.
Back to square one … time to earn a full-time gig with the Cannons.
I put my head down and went to work, focused on being a great teammate and great follower. It paid off and I landed a role on the defense. I started every game for three consecutive years, and finished my third season with 20 points, ranked second in Defensive Player of the Year and fourth in MLL MVP voting. (Still disappointed I didn’t finish first in both categories).
Right after the 2015 season came to an end, the league made an announcement. They were adding an expansion team in the south. Atlanta, my hometown, was the chosen city.
It seemed serendipitous. This was my chance.
It was my chance to give back to the growing lacrosse community that had given everything to me. It was the ATL that taught me how to play, how to win, and sometimes, how to lose. It was the ATL that allowed me to train with the best athletes throughout high school. It was the ATL that motivated me to prove every D-I coach wrong. It was the ATL that had my back when no one else did.
I knew immediately that I had to be on that roster. And just as I hoped, I got the call. It is for me, the most poetic finish to a long journey of sacrifice, adversity, and triumph. A long journey from make-believe crowds and pine-tree defenders, but I had come full circle.
It would be the proudest moment of my lacrosse career:
Captain of the Atlanta Blaze.
“Scott Ratliff, from Atlanta Georgia, takes the shot … and he scooooores!”
This has been an original TILT Narrative by