van Molloy felt certain on the eve of his fourth birthday that he’d look different in the morning. Somehow older. Sometime after midnight, the door to his mother Louise’s bedroom swung open. Her son padded into the room and crept up to a mirror on the wall. He studied the reflection intently. Then the youngest male in the Molloy line touched his face in surprise. Nothing had changed at all, and some things never would.
A year later, Molloy’s father Jamie took him to his first lacrosse practice and put him at goalie. A ball hit the 5-year-old in the head, ricocheted into the air and hit him again on its descent. “Following in your dad’s footsteps?” asked a friend’s father, the first of many to ask.
Molloy’s father holds the Syracuse program record for career saves. His grandfather Kenneth is responsible for getting NFL Hall of Famer and Syracuse hero Jim Brown to campus. Yet less than a year ago, Molloy’s contribution to the family legacy was 22 minutes played in three seasons.
“I might’ve resented the shadow a little bit,” Molloy said. “Especially when (my dad) is all over the record books, and I’m the third-string goalie.”
Not anymore. The career backup subbed in midway through last season for a struggling star transfer and finally shined himself. Molloy transformed into the fulcrum of a floundering Syracuse squad suddenly tipping the scores back into its favor. In just over three weeks, a bench player became a conference tournament MVP. After last season’s meteoric rise, the redshirt senior is a locked-in starter and captain for the No. 6 Orange.
Courtesy of Jamie Molloy
Everywhere you look, there are reminders of Molloy family success. In SU’s locker room, nameplates hang above each locker listing past players who wore that number. Above No. 32, there’s Kenneth’s name. Uncle Ken (29) and his dad, Jamie (7), are there, too. Molloy will never reach the records and accolades as those family members. But now, Molloy has a final season to be everything he expects of himself.
“You have to think you’re the best player on the field and no one’s going to score on you, whether it’s true or not,” Molloy said. “That’s who I am. That’s what this whole (Syracuse) thing was. I wasn’t playing and there was still the idea of being the next great Molloy.”
In Molloy’s favorite story about his grandfather, the ranking naval officer asks the fresh-faced recruit: Well, son, how many goals did you score on those bastards from Army?
Somehow, the other aspiring midshipmen discovered that Kenneth arrived to boot camp in 1943 from Syracuse, where he was a two-time All-American attack on the lacrosse team.
“Seven goals, sir,” Kenneth replied.
The officer named Kenneth a PT boat captain on the spot.
After Kenneth earned a Silver Star and returned home from World War II, he met a girl named Mary at Archbold Stadium during the 1946 homecoming football game. They soon married and moved to Manhasset on Long Island. There, Kenneth heard about a 13-letter athlete at Manhasset Secondary School named Jimmy Brown.
Ohio State had recruited him for football and the New York Yankees offered a minor-league contract. But Kenneth had another idea. He convinced Brown that Syracuse would soon be a power on par with Ohio State and fibbed he had the power to grant Brown a scholarship. Syracuse coaches had not scouted Brown and did not want black players on the team, according to Mike Freeman’s biography, “Jim Brown: The Fierce Life of an American Hero.” But Kenneth bet they would offer a scholarship after seeing him play. Unbeknownst to Brown, Kenneth wrote Manhasset community leaders and raised tuition for Brown’s first two semesters.
Nineteen years later, Brown asked Kenneth to introduce him at his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony. When Brown occasionally visited Manhasset, he regularly stopped by and saw Kenneth’s growing family.
The youngest son, Jamie, loved wearing his large, leather-armed Syracuse Varsity jacket and playing with the Onondaga Nation wooden lacrosse sticks in the garage. The 6-year-old watched Floyd Little run all over Pittsburgh at Shea Stadium in 1965. Jamie never could replicate the bruising style, though. He stood 5-foot-7 and weighed 110 pounds in high school. For his own safety, Kenneth moved Jamie to lacrosse goalie.
Colleges heavily recruited Jamie, but there was little doubt of where he’d land. He started all four years at Syracuse and still holds the program records for saves in a career with 766. Jamie played under Roy Simmons, Jr., who famously said to his freshman classes on their first day that they owed the program their first-born sons.
But Jamie’s first son, also named Kenneth, never had an athletic career because he was born with clubfoot. Jamie threw his second son into the cage as early as he could. He taught his son to scoop, cradle, own the crease and, later, to let the upperclassmen pay for drinks at Harry’s Bar.
He raised Molloy in a house never lacking sticks, in a town never absent of boys wanting to play lacrosse. He wanted to carry on the family tradition like his father had relished doing, but sometimes it felt too heavy. He switched to attack in ninth grade and set the school scoring record at small Berkshire (Massachusetts) School.
“I wanted to step out of my dad’s shadow,” Molloy said. “It’s tough to be like, ‘A goalie, just like your dad.’”
Molloy came home in 10th grade, transferring to Manhasset Secondary School and returning to goalie. He thought he was better there. Both Jamie and Louise still question if his future might’ve been brighter at attack. Molloy sat behind an All-American in his sophomore and junior season and, he said, became the No. 2 option for most schools in recruiting.
Virginia seemed appealing and so did Duke, but the top two goalie recruits were already committed there. He wanted to play, so he picked a school with a good track record for Molloys. But it didn’t work out that way. He redshirted and spent the following two years behind more established goalies like Bobby Wardwell and Dominic Lamolinara. In 2016, the position finally seemed his. Until Warren Hill, a world champion netminder, announced his transfer from Onondaga Community College to Syracuse.
Hill won the job in the fall, cemented himself in the spring and melted away with the season. Syracuse limped to a 5-3 start before head coach John Desko made the switch. On April 6 at Hobart, Molloy made his first start and played more minutes in that game alone than in the three-plus prior years combined. SU won, 13-6.
Shortly after 9 p.m., a plate of chicken wings arrived at the table inside the Sitrus on the Hill bar inside the Sheraton Hotel. Molloy had come straight from the team bus and the family talked more than they ate. Louise beamed at her son’s validation. Jamie delivered a scouting report on Cornell, the next opponent. In a way, the 23-year-old Molloy thought, his parents had finally seen returns on an 18-year investment.
But he couldn’t feel settled as the starting goalie. Ten days after leaving the bench, Molloy held eventual-national champion North Carolina to seven goals. Thirteen days later, he did it again, en route to winning the ACC tournament MVP. He embraced it then. But even if none of that happened, that night at the Sheraton would’ve been enough.
“Cementing the legacy of the Molloy family is something my dad accomplished way more than I did,” Molloy said. “But just to be a part of that is important. That’s where it comes full circle.”
Banner photo by Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor
Published on February 9, 2017 at 12:38 am