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Union lacrosse co-captain Winters headed to the Marines

Union lacrosse co-captain Winters headed to the Marines

Soon after graduation, defenseman will head back to Quantico, Virginia, for more officer training
Union lacrosse co-captain Winters headed to the Marines
Union men's lacrosse defenseman Ed Winters completed Officer Candidates School last summer.
Photographer: PHOTO PROVIDED

The before picture shows Edward Winters with his face clean-shaven.

Now, the after picture does, too.

But for a few months there, the Union College senior had the full outlaw mustache, an homage to his late grandfather, also named Edward Winters. That's how the co-captain defenseman on the Dutchmen's men's lacrosse team still looks in his roster photo on the team website.

"I think he knew he only had a certain amount of time to rock that," first-year head coach Derek Witheford said with a laugh on Thursday.

That time is over for Winters now, as sports have been canceled and the senior class at Union finishes up final online coursework toward graduation. He shaved his mustache off shortly after the Dutchmen's season, full of promise, ended five games in due to the COVID-19 pandemic with a big victory over 12th-ranked St. John Fisher on Wednesday, March 11.

But the homage to his grandfather continues, in the most significant way possible.

On June 13, one day after he's scheduled to graduate, Winters will be commissioned to the U.S. Marine Corps as a second lieutenant, have graduated from the Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Virginia, last summer. Goodbye, mustache.

His grandfather spent four years in the Corps as an enlisted Marine, and Winters has been motivated to be a part of that for most of his life.

"I wanted to be a Marine since I was 6 or 7," he said. "My grandfather was a Marine, and I looked up to him as my hero as a child. I told myself I wanted to be just like him, so for me to do that, I was going to have to become a Marine."

He took the first major step toward that goal from June 1 to Aug. 10 last summer, when he completed the 10-week OCS training, in which candidates are exposed to the physical and mental rigors of life as a Marine, but are also evaluated for their leadership qualities to see if they're officer material.

The next step will be six months at The Basic School (TBS) back at Camp Barrett in Quantico, where Marines learn what it takes to be a platoon leader, and depending on how well Winters performs there, he hopes to have some choices when he moves on to his Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) assignment. He would prefer to be an infantry officer.

Just as being a college lacrosse player helped Winters handle certain aspects of OCS, his Marine training, coupled with innate leadership qualities he demonstrated as a junior, made him a no-brainer pick to be one of five captains on this year's team.

"Obviously, there's some stuff that's different, but because of lacrosse, I was able to go into OCS in really good shape, which made all the physical training in the morning easier for me than others," he said. "Then, from being a captain on my high school team and somewhat of a leader my junior year, it gave me a little advantage because you know how to lead others."

"He's a no-nonsense kid and has gone through a lot," Witheford said. "His work ethic has been second to none.

"A little story I like to tell is he didn't play much as a freshman and even as a sophomore. During our game days, he didn't play much, and after the games were done and we'd be tailgating with all the families, Eddie would go to the weight room and be lifting. On game days. Until I would leave, and he would be the last one in the weight room."

Witheford, who recruited Winters, played for Union from 2008-11 and was a captain, then joined head coach Paul Wehrum's staff in 2013 and was promoted to head coach after last season, when Wehrum retired.

Winters captained his high school team at Northern Highlands in his hometown of Allendale, N.J., and came to Union as a 6-foot-4 freshman with room on his frame for some more muscle mass. The mathematics major is listed at 220 as a senior and was versatile enough as a defenseman to cover the attack as well as midfielders.

"Eddie's big, tough, athletic," Witheford said. "He's a force on the field. He really causes a lot of problems with his length and his passing, but he's a tough, tough kid, and we're going to miss him dearly."

The Dutchmen finished last season with a 10-9 loss to No. 1-ranked RIT in the national quarterfinals of the Division III tournament and had high hopes for this season.

They won four of their first five and were up to No. 10 in the country when they beat St. Johns Fisher, as Witheford leaned on the seniors a little more knowing that the season might be over soon because of the pandemic.

A couple days later, it was over.

"It was kind of abrupt for us," Winters said. "So that was a heartbreaker for the whole team. Since then, you just have to move past it, and especially with the job I have, it's been a lot of running and trying to get in shape for the Marines now.

"It sucks, but, honestly, I think all the seniors were just grateful we did get to play some games and the whole season wasn't just canceled. We had some pretty big expectations for this team."

"They're handling it great, and they know what's at stake," Witheford said. "I just wish they had an opportunity to go out on their shield. To make a playoff run, it's a shame they didn't have that opportunity.

"They're still dealing with it, they understand, and Eddie's been a great example of this, that they have to sacrifice for other people in the country to heal. And this is bigger than sports, and Eddie embodies that, with his decision to join the Marines."

Winters still occasionally does some footwork drills and throws it around in the backyard for the benefit of his brother Billy, a freshman on the Ithaca lacrosse team, but otherwise, Ed's lacrosse days are over. So are his mustache days.

While it's unusual for someone to come through the Dutchmen program and become a Marine, it's not unprecedented.

Niskayuna High's Nolan Connors graduated from Union in 2013, then went to OCS, and Witheford was proud to point out that Connors had just been promoted to the rank of captain this week.

Winters was supposed to be commissioned in a big ceremony at the Nott Memorial on June 13, but now "it could be just in my backyard with my family," he said, because of limits on how many people are allowed to gather in one place.

"He held everyone on the team to his standards and wasn't afraid to speak up, which we loved, and I know he's going to do great things in the Marines," Witheford said. "Once you talk to him, you can understand his passion and dedication to it."

"I would say the toughest part of OCS was the first two weeks you're there, because you're like, 'I don't know if this is all worth it,' all the 3-4 hours a night of sleep, all of that starts to catch up with you," Winters said. "Like, 'Wow, is this really worth it?'

"So during that, you just have to remember the 'Why.' Why you're there and why you want to do this.

"Which for me was my grandfather."

Reach Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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