It was over three years ago when Cornell men’s assistant lacrosse coach Ben DeLuca ’98 received that fateful phone call from his good friend and head coach Jeff Tambroni.
Here was DeLuca, living successfully in Manhattan as the youngest vice president ever for the National Lacrosse League. Here was a former four-year letter winner and Cornell captain, who previously worked for SFX Sports Group — a major talent and marketing agency. And yet, Tambroni’s offer of coming back to DeLuca’s beloved alma mater to coach was too tempting to refuse.
So DeLuca came back to East Hill, and since then, he has never looked back.
“There’s no place I’d rather be, there’s no job I’d rather have right now, especially with everything that’s happened over the past couple of years,” DeLuca said. “I think I’ve had a couple people ask me, ‘What would your dream job be?’ and it’s easy for me to say this is it.”
DeLuca has also helped turn Cornell lacrosse’s dreams into a reality, playing a key role in two nine-win seasons and Ivy League titles since he has returned. Known as a hard-nosed stalwart on the defensive end during his playing days, DeLuca has similarly used his vigor, knowledge and love for the program as a coach.
“He’s extremely passionate and cares about every little details about what’s going on in the defensive end and not just on the field, not just X’s and O’s, but also relating to us as people as players on the field and off the field,” said senior co-captain Kyle Georgalas.
While it is difficult to now imagine that DeLuca would do anything besides coaching, his road to the lacrosse bench was not always so clear. Coming into Cornell with an interest in the math and sciences, as a student, DeLuca, who has a degree in nutritional sciences and biochemistry, said he started considering coaching as a career while he was a player.
After graduation, he became an assistant coach under then-head coach Dave Pietramala for two years before deciding to leave East Hill for the bright lights of New York and try his hand in the business world.
DeLuca enjoyed working in New York, but the tragic events of September 11 had him reevaluate his goals. He started to think more about what was truly important in his life and Cornell lacrosse was toward the top of his list.
“[September 11] definitely refocused my priorities and principles. It allowed me to realize that life is more than a paycheck or making a lot of money or material things,” DeLuca said. “When [Tambroni] called me back up when I was down in the city and asked me if I was interested in getting back into [coaching], it was funny because it was something I was thinking about but I hadn’t spoken to him about.”
In continuing the tradition of past teams, DeLuca has become a beacon in maintaining and organizing a stingy Cornell defense which has been the squad’s trademark throughout the program’s history.
DeLuca describes his own coaching style as a combination of both the old and new school, learning greatly from the coaches he has worked with in the past. While his guys’ performance is obviously important on-the-field, DeLuca emphasized that his main goal is to make the players good people off the field.
And according to Tambroni, DeLuca’s experience of being a student-athlete at Cornell is one characteristic which sets him apart.
“The thing that puts it over the top for me is that he is a Cornell grad himself, he did play lacrosse in our program for four years, he was a captain, so it certainly means a lot of me to know the person who’s instructing me, who’s coaching me, who’s pushing me, has been in my shoes in the same position at a certain point of time,” said junior midfielder Cameron Marchant.
Last year, DeLuca was named the first Mario St. George Boiardi ’04 Assistant Coach of Lacrosse, which was endowed last season after Boiardi’s tragic passing. According to Tambroni, DeLuca’s close-knit relationship with his players, including Boiardi, his experience at Cornell, and his connection and love for the program make him difficult to replace in that particular position in the future.
“I’m sure we’ll have talented assistant coaches in this position at Cornell,” Tambroni said. “But I think in terms of replacing that spiritual and emotional connection that a coach that holds that position had with its namesake, I don’t think we’ll ever replace that.”
Although he admitted that he one day wants to be a head coach for a lacrosse program, DeLuca said that he “couldn’t be happier” in where he is at right now. One thing’s for sure, DeLuca has already made a lasting impression both on the individuals he has worked with, as well as Cornell lacrosse.
“If I have to replace him … because I’m sure he’s going to be offered a head coaching position somewhere down the line probably sooner than later … I will not only have lost a great coach and a wonderful ambassador to Cornell University, but also a great friend to my family,” Tambroni said.
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Assistant Sports Editor