Dartmouth freshman Evan Bloom grimaces during conditioning drills on Oct. 13, 2010, in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)
Play hard and party harder has long seemed to be the squad’s unofficial motto, one that fifth-year coach Andy Towers has worked hard to eradicate. Part of that effort has been recruiting players like Evan Bloom.
A defenseman from Long Island, N.Y., Bloom hails from one of the country’s high school lacrosse hotbeds, and he’s a Theta Delta Chi brother. That’s about as close to being a wild boy as the senior is likely to get.
“He’s spearheaded the culture improvement this program has had,” said Towers, whose 1-7 team visits Princeton on Saturday. “We appreciate it as coaches, and his teammates respect it.”
Bloom, who also played football the past two seasons, is not given to fiery rhetoric or chest-thumping. However, his quiet intensity and unquestioned work ethic has served his teams well, and his maturity in the face of frustration has earned him widespread respect.
Bloom never got into a varsity football game and has seen only brief action in lacrosse, yet he’s still a team leader. On June 7, he will be commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps during a ceremony in Boston aboard the USS Constitution, then return to Hanover for his graduation the next day. From there, it’s off to basic training and flight school, with the goal of one day piloting fighter jets or helicopters.
Bloom doesn’t advertise any of this. He’s certainly proud of the path he’s chosen, but is wise enough to know there are many ways to regard military service and America’s role in international conflict. He’s also at peace knowing that he’s turned from a path that often sees Dartmouth athletes leave campus to work on Wall Street or in equally lucrative professions.
“It’s not like I’m walking around campus with a Marine Corps backpack,” Bloom said. “I don’t wave it in people’s faces. It doesn’t get brought up all that often, but when it does, my teammates are appreciative of the choice I’m making. They tell me it kicks ass, and they thank me.”
The second of three children raised by a police officer and a kitchen designer, Bloom starred for Sachem North High, and his lacrosse coach there, Jason Mauro, said he earned recruiting interest from Navy, Lehigh, Fairfield and Hofstra before choosing Dartmouth. Once here, however, Bloom had second thoughts and dallied with the idea of leaving and sitting out a year so he could start over at Navy. His parents and Mauro talked him out of the idea.
The only Reserve Officers Training Corps at Dartmouth is linked to the Army, so Bloom did some Internet research and discovered he could attend the Marines’ Officer Candidate School in the summer and receive a career guarantee if he made it through.
“I made sure I did the legwork before I talked to a recruiter, because I didn’t want to wake up on a bus to Parris Island,” Bloom said, referring to the infamous South Carolina site of enlisted Marine boot camp.
Bloom earned an OCS slot despite failing to perform the required 100 sit-ups in two minutes during a physical fitness exam in Durham, N.H., his freshman fall. He was also relatively slow on the timed 3-mile run, and because he hadn’t yet earned any college academic grades, his recruiter submitted his application with a 4.0 in that slot, something at which Bloom still chuckles.
“Recruiters will do as recruiters do,” he said.
During the summer following his freshman year, Bloom endured six weeks of OCS, which he describes as boot camp for officers in sweltering and humid Quantico, Va. He went back for a second such stint last summer, during which his 55-man platoon graduated only 36 members — and featured less attrition than other such groups in his class.
“You lose a lot of guys the first six weeks because they don’t know what to expect or maybe their recruiter told them it was going to be like Boy Scout camp,” Bloom said. “During the second round, it’s usually guys who get injured or cheat because they aren’t making the grade.”
Bloom watched his peers fracture limbs, dislocate joints and keel over from heat exhaustion. In the latter case, a candidate’s body temperature is read by a rectal thermometer.
“We call that the silver bullet,” Bloom said.
OCS participants are pushed to exhaustion while receiving limited sleep and nourishment. At the same time, mental stress is cranked up and candidates are made to submit to each others’ orders and put in situations guaranteed to create conflict. All the time, they’re watched and evaluated.
“They want to see how you respond when you’re uncomfortable and things are out of your control,” Bloom said. “Do you let your confidence get destroyed or do you stick with it? You have to establish why people should follow you and toe the line between getting them to work at speed while knowing you’re going to be sleeping next to them at night.
“You get a real accurate reading on someone’s personality in that environment. There’s who people think they are and who they really are, and our trainers were good at showing the difference.”
Discovering coping methods are crucial. Bloom found his in close bonds with his fellow candidates and by maintaining a sense of humor, although he often kept his observations to himself. He could openly laugh about them once he completed the first six weeks, after which he went home and slept as much as 12 hours per day for a week.
Bloom had harbored the idea of walking onto the Dartmouth football team for some time, but he was needed for fall lacrosse practice as a freshman and he was in no shape to jump from OCS to gridiron practices before his sophomore year. So that dream had to wait until 2012, when he became a reserve defensive back and led the junior varsity in tackles. Bloom hadn’t played football since his junior year of high school, and he had realistic expectations about starting up again.
“I knew I wasn’t going to even get to play (varsity) special teams, but I really missed football,” he said. “There are 40-year-olds still playing reasonably competitive lacrosse, but there’s not much similar for contact football, so this was my last shot. It was tough to be lifting weights with football at 6 a.m., but it was also a special opportunity and I wish I could have been part of it sooner.”
In lacrosse, Bloom has played in only 15 games during his college career, starting once. He’s appeared in three contests this spring, despite numerous injuries to teammates, and has endured many long and cold afternoons on the sidelines.
“I was given my chance to play my way into a starting spot, and other guys were better,” Bloom said. “It just makes me wish I was better at lacrosse. That’s defined my experience at Dartmouth, but it’s still worthwhile. If I could go back four years and have the opportunity to play more someplace else, I’d still chose to be right here.”
Said Towers: “I wouldn’t have been able to say that at his age, and being that bluntly honest shows he has a unique level of self-confidence. He’s mild-mannered, introspective and articulate, but his mental toughness is off the charts.”
Bloom has been honored by Dartmouth’s strength and conditioning coaches and will present a fit and striking profile when, outfitted in his Marine dress blue uniform, he strides across the stage in front of Baker Library to receive his diploma in a couple of months. Picturing that moment was another help in getting through OCS, but it will serve as a turning point away from life as a civilian. That deeply worries his mother, Karen, and has his father, David, on edge.
Mother and son “don’t talk about it much, and even I don’t talk with her about it because it gets her upset,” said David Bloom, who has attended a majority of Dartmouth’s lacrosse games the past four years. “During commencement, it’s going to be right in her face, and I hope it doesn’t cast an unpleasant pall over the weekend. I’d love to celebrate his accomplishments, but it’s hard for me to be too much in his corner without alienating my wife.”
Towers — who has children of his own — sympathizes, but he’s also fired up about one of his players stepping forward to serve.
“You’re not going to find somebody who’s more willing to sacrifice his individual needs for team goals,” the coach said. “It’s comforting to know that guys like Evan Bloom are the kind of people who are protecting our country.”
Notes: Senior attackman Mike Olentine leads Dartmouth with nine goals and five assists. … Dartmouth last won at Princeton in 2003. … The Big Green last won a single game in a season during the 1991 campaign, when it finished 1-14. Since then, the fewest victories in a season were three in 1993 and four in 2009. … The laxpower.com NCAA Division I power rankings list Dartmouth 59th out of 67 teams. Princeton is No. 14. No. 57 Holy Cross is the Big Green’s opponent in the 2014 season finale. … Dartmouth allows 14.57 goals per game, next-to-last among Division I teams. It is last in man-down defense, allowing opponents to score 39.4 percent of the time with a man advantage. … Dartmouth freshman midfielder and former Hanover High standout Jesse Brown has appeared in four games.
Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3227.