Duke finds safety net in former standout

Dan Wigrizer and the rest of Duke's goalies are being tutored by former Syracuse standout John Galloway. Courtesy Steve Rock

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Late in the fall, Duke men's lacrosse coach John Danowski handed goalie Dan Wigrizer a copy of Eric Greitens' "The Heart and the Fist," a philosophical memoir written by a Duke graduate and Rhodes scholar who later became a Navy SEAL.

The book underscored the mental aspects of the game that Wigrizer, a junior two years removed from a national title, could improve upon as the No. 8 team in the country set its sights on a sixth straight final four appearance and a second national title in the past three years.

Helping Wigrizer -- and the talented stable of goalies behind him -- with that has been former Syracuse goalie John Galloway, who was hired as a volunteer assistant coach in the fall after winning the Ensign C. Markland Kelly Jr. Award as the nation's best goalkeeper last season. At Syracuse, Galloway became the only goalie in NCAA history to win national titles as a freshman and a sophomore, and he finished his career with NCAA records in wins (59) and minutes (3,776).

While Galloway's credentials provide an element of validation, Wigrizer said his new position coach has a keen understanding of what the players are going through, having been in their shoes just a year ago.

"Just him knowing when we've seen a lot of shots, when we've seen enough shots, when it's time to work on a specific aspect," Wigrizer said. "It's more communication and knowing when's the right time to do something. He knows the mental side, he's more able to pick up on the mental aspect of things. He knows what we're feeling mentally as much as physically in telling us what to do."

Galloway met Danowski through a camp this past summer. The two had lunch in Florida and immediately hit it off while discussing the state of the sport.

Though Galloway is prohibited from recruiting off-campus, he considers himself a full-time employee. The job will stretch him thin in two months when his MLL team, the Rochester Rattlers, begin their season. He has used Duke's facilities to train until then, and he said he is on the same page with coaches from both sides for when the Rattlers' season begins.

For now, Galloway is charged with leading a group that, in addition to Wigrizer, features a capable fifth-year senior in Mike Rock and a talented newcomer in freshman Kyle Turri.

He changes things up every day in practice by implementing different drills -- having goalies use their sticks upside-down one day to increase difficulty, keeping the goalies on their toes the next day by having them ditch the sticks while he kicks balls from the top of the crease.

"It's tough not being able to go out there and play, and having to take a back seat when you're used to doing what they're doing," Galloway said. "But the first thing I wanted to make sure was that we have the same amount of respect for each other. I played against Danny; I'm there for him."

Galloway can relate to Wigrizer, as they are two of six goalies who have won national titles as true freshmen. Both have said that Wigrizer embraces the competition to be Duke's starter and has thrived on the threat of a teammate taking his job.

In a 7-3 loss Saturday at Notre Dame, Wigrizer had seven saves in the first quarter, one more than he had in the entirety of a season-opening win over Rutgers a week earlier. He finished with 16 saves.

"I've never seen him play that well," Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. "I thought he was terrific."

The early-season loss was not uncommon for Duke, which has just a .500 record in February since 2009 despite advancing until at least the national semifinals in that stretch.

Danowski and players have tried to ignore recent history, stressing that each team is different from year to year. But with a national title-winning goalie in Wigrizer and the heralded Galloway guiding him, the Blue Devils are optimistic that the learning curve will be similar once again this season.

"He's got the eyes and the feel of a goalie -- somebody who's played the position before," Danowski said of Galloway. "While we can coach the position, we've never been between the pipes. So he has a sense of what goes on. And John is extremely articulate, he thinks the game, plays -- obviously -- professionally and cares about being a good teacher. And so it's really been fun to have him with us."

Matt Fortuna covers Notre Dame football for ESPN.com.