By Jillian Fay | 7/3/12 1:00 PM
Like many boys growing up in Syracuse, N.Y., Jeremy Boltus had hopes of playing NCAA Division I lacrosse. After leading NYSPHSAA Section III in goals his senior year, and finishing amongst the top in points at the New York Empire Games, the recruiting calls for Boltus were sure to flood in. But the phone didn’t ring. It turned out the administration mistyped Boltus’ phone number on the Empire roster, so even if recruiters were trying to call, he never knew about it. Halfway through senior year, when he was “about 85% sure” he was going to attend LeMoyne College -- a Division II school in Syracuse -- Boltus finally got the Division I call he had been waiting for. Army head lacrosse coach Joe Alberici contacted Boltus and offered him the opportunity to attend and play for the United States Military Academy at West Point.
“I had nowhere else to go, and I always had a goal and a dream of playing Division I lacrosse, and I thought I was decent enough and could play at that level,” Boltus said. “Army was the only place for me to go and do that, so I decided just to go there and focus on lacrosse for a little bit and kind of put the military stuff on the back burner.”
During his freshmen year at West Point, Boltus said he still didn’t really understand what it meant to play for Army. It wasn’t until the Black Knights beat Navy in 2008 -- the first Army victory in the previous 13 contests -- that Boltus realized what he had become a part of. “People went berserk over it,” he said. “You understand as the time progresses that it’s not just about the 50 something guys that are on your team that you’re playing for. You’re actually playing for a whole bigger team, one of the biggest teams the world has to offer in the United States Army.” Alberici would continuously remind his players -- especially the young freshmen and sophomores -- that while they do play for the guys in their locker room, they are really playing for the name on the front of their chests. “It was an amazing feeling when you recognized the tradition of the great players that came before you,” Boltus said.
The attackman would go on to finish his college career ranked second in school history with 124 assists and 214 points. Boltus was named the 2011 Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year, as well as a Tewaaraton Award finalist, thanks to a senior campaign that included 24 goals and 45 assists. “Basically, I chose Army to play lacrosse,” he said. “But now it’s transformed from lacrosse player into sacrificing something that no one ever thought I could do. I’m proving all the people wrong who said I couldn’t play at this level. Who said I could never get through West Point. Who said I couldn’t serve in the military. I feel like I’m proving them wrong.”
Proving people wrong has become the theme for both of Boltus’ careers. Because the Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Draft was held before his spectacular senior year even got underway -- and with concerns about how his post-graduate military service commitment would disrupt his ability to play -- Boltus slipped to the final round on draft day where he was finally selected 43rd overall (out of 48 total picks) by the Hamilton Nationals. Boltus used the snub as motivation, and went on to win MLL Rookie of the Year Honors, leading all first-year players with 30 points (19 goals, 11 assists).
“Stuff like that motivates me and makes me strive to be the best at whatever I’m going to do, whether it be on the lacrosse field or in the military,” Boltus said. Currently stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, he is finishing up basic officer training as a 2nd Lieutenant in artillery school. During the week his days are filled with 12 hours’ worth of workouts, classroom instruction and field training, plus another two to three hours of homework at the end of the night. In order to leave the base on the weekends and suit up for the Charlotte Hounds, Boltus has to keep his grades above 70% and submit certain paperwork for approval. “It’s definitely been a grind,” he said. “But it’s definitely a blessing too just because it’s always been my goal, my dream to play lacrosse at the highest level.” The attackman currently ranks second in goals and assists (15, 9) and third in points (24) for the Hounds. Boltus said that while he is thrilled things are working out this summer for him to participate in MLL, he realizes there is a bigger picture that lies ahead.
Boltus will finish artillery school in the middle of August and move on to Fort Carson in Colorado. Upon arrival, he says “you show up there and just kind of follow suit with what that unit is doing.” The unit could be returning from deployment or preparing to deploy. Either way, Boltus said he is ready and excited to move on with his training. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “Looking forward to putting into action what I’ve been learning the past five years, whether it be from West Point or at this officer training school. They prepare you for every situation you could be faced with and you just have to execute it.”
After choosing to attend West Point simply for the opportunity to be a top-tier athlete, Boltus now realizes it is the military that comes first in his life -- lacrosse is just an added bonus. “It means a lot to me, what I do now,” he said. “As a freshman I could never see it having this kind of meaning or affect, but at the same time it’s been a blast. You really do cherish what comes before and what comes after you. You really understand that the Army is more than just a one person thing or an individual effort. It is a team effort. You understand that people have sacrificed their lives for everyone to live with the freedom that each and every one who’s not in the military has today.”
Boltus called his past five years of service “a great journey,” and says it moves him when people, especially those close to him like his brothers, say “thank you” for what he is doing every day. “It has been an honor to say that I’m doing something bigger than myself,” Boltus said. “It’s an awesome feeling.”
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