OHSWEKEN, Ontario — Brendan Bomberry’s phone wouldn’t stop buzzing. So many texts. So many calls. The constant hum prevented him from opening the lock screen.
Sitting in the airplane seat on a tarmac in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on Feb. 26, 2015, Brendan’s new life began. He had become a father.
“One of the happiest days of my life, him being born,” Brendan said, “but it was also one of the scariest.”
Jagger, his son, arrived hundreds of miles away and shockingly early. The boy was born three months prematurely — so early that Brendan hadn’t told most of his teammates and coaches that his girlfriend Brittany Sobeski was pregnant. She had stopped in Syracuse to meet up with Brendan’s relatives for a drive from Ontario to Chapel Hill, where Brendan’s Denver lacrosse team would play North Carolina, when the contractions started.
Mothers of premature babies typically receive steroids for the child’s heart and lungs. But Brittany’s labor started as nurses changed shifts, and it moved quickly. She panicked. St. Joseph’s Hospital doctors performed an emergency cesarean section surgery. The whole process took 30 minutes.
“Chaos,” Brittany said.
Brendan didn’t want to play against the Tar Heels, but did at Brittany’s urging. He scored two goals and then immediately flew to Syracuse. He saw his newborn son battling through complications from his premature birth. Jagger weighed 2 pounds, 11 ounces. For the first month, his heart stopped once a day and once a night. Brittany asked nurses if her son would survive. They couldn’t tell her. They didn’t know.
Brittany lived at the hospital with Jagger for 64 days. She never left for more than a few hours at a time. Those few moments she spent with Brendan’s aunt Cheri and uncle Marshall, the planned copilots for the Chapel Hill trip. But Brittany always returned to Jagger quickly. Otherwise, anxiety kicked in.
After a few days in Syracuse, Brendan had to return to school at Denver. He and Brittany FaceTimed constantly as the father waited for news of his son. As days became weeks and weeks became months, Brendan realized monitoring another human life was now his life. He had to grow up.
In summer 2016, after two trying years at Denver and just before the transfer deadline, he made a decision for his family. Jagger being born in Syracuse was a sign, he thought. It must be. Brendan decided to finally join the team he’d admired since childhood.
Lacrosse had been the one constant in his life since Jagger’s birth. The sport, in Mohawk tradition, serves as the thread tying the living to their ancestors. He found comfort in the familiarity and led the nation in man-up goals with 11 last season as a part of his 33 points. To reconnect with his family though, he needed to make a change. Now, the junior attack will be a key cog in Syracuse’s offense this season.
“SU is the only place that would have taken me away from Denver,” Brendan said.
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epending on the season, the surface behind Brendan’s childhood home functions as a box lacrosse field or an ice hockey rink. It was one of the most popular spots in his neighborhood because all the other kids in his family came over to play. From there, you can see the adjacent houses belonging to his grandparents and an aunt.
That family community helped Brendan’s parents, Amy and Patrick, raise their first-born son when they had him as teenagers. Brendan spent a lot of time with his cousins as his parents worked to sustain the family. After he was born, Patrick worked through high school with two part-time jobs, one as a factory security guard and the other at a gas station. Amy was in college with an active baby boy.
As a child, Brendan’s routine became wake up, grab a stick and play on the rink. Brendan’s grandparents set a curfew because they couldn’t sleep when pucks and balls smashed off the boards late at night. The kids adapted, forced to be accurate: Hit the net or cause a ruckus.
Family and lacrosse collided for Brendan in Syracuse. He often drove four hours to the Carrier Dome to watch his uncle Marshall, a key figure in the Orange’s 2000 national championship. He always wanted to play in the Dome. When he transferred to SU, Brendan wanted to wear No. 43, Marshall’s number. But it was taken. Still, his family and his heritage serve as his primary motivation.
“Before I step on the field,” Brendan said, “that’s what I think about. ‘Who am I playing for? Why am I doing this?’ I think of my family, my son, the Creator and my people.”
Brendan hadn’t chosen Syracuse at first for a few reasons. Part of it was that he wanted to play at the same school as Zach Miller, his best friend and high school teammate. He was also intrigued by the Denver staff. Head coach Bill Tierney, a six-time national champion at Princeton, pitched Brendan on taking an unproven Pioneers program to unprecedented heights.
While they supported Brendan, the decision surprised several family members. Many worried that living three-quarters across the continent would be too far. But Brendan, not yet burdened with responsibility, wanted to see something new.
At first, Brendan was shy as he acclimated to DU. Teammate Matt Jones could tell his roommate was far away from his family for the first time. He wasn’t uncomfortable because of where he was, but because of where he wasn’t.
“I really took for granted my time I spent with (family),” Brendan said. “It really hit home that I’m a few thousand miles away. I started to get really homesick, and things just kind of (created a) domino effect from there.”
Right around the time Brendan felt comfortable in his first trimester, Brittany entered one of her own.
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uggling lacrosse, Brittany, Jagger and everything else became an increasingly imposing challenge. Brendan played in four games after North Carolina, but felt distracted. He struggled to keep up in class, particularly with Analytical Inquiry II.
The computer science course asked students to write code for video game software. Brendan’s preoccupation with his family contributed to him missing the term’s class drop deadline. He eventually failed the class, rendering him ineligible for the season’s final 11 games. He couldn’t travel for road games, meaning some weekends suddenly became free.
Four or five times from March until May, Brendan flew from Denver to Syracuse to see his girlfriend and son. Brendan felt obligated to be there for ailing Jagger.
“(Ineligibility) was a blessing in disguise,” Brendan said.
Brendan met Jagger and Brittany in Ontario once the hospital released them. The family drove to Philadelphia to see Denver play in the Final Four. He couldn’t play but wanted to support his teammates. He also wanted Jagger to have that memory.
The Pioneers that weekend claimed their first national title as Tierney realized the fantasy he’d pitched Brendan long ago. The championship ring now sits at Amy and Patrick’s house alongside the rest of Brendan’s trophies.
The following summer, Brendan spent nearly every day with his girlfriend and son. He struggled leaving for school in the fall, overcome with emotion. He had decided to drive to Denver for sophomore year. Before he set out, Brendan told Brittany he wouldn’t go without her and Jagger. Within an hour, the three left together. Brittany finally told her mother as they approached the U.S. border.
The three lived with five DU teammates for about two months. The other players, said Matt Jones, felt like uncles. They helped however they could, but eventually the three moved into their own apartment.
“We’re super spontaneous,” Brittany said. “Everything’s not really planned with us.”
Patrick had told Brendan before he left to be careful of his actions. No matter what, he said, Jagger will be watching. Brendan has since cut back on occasional trips to the bar, and now brings Jagger along when he hangs out with friends. They mostly stay in and play Xbox One games, like NBA 2K or NHL.
In moving to Denver, Brittany had put her modeling career on hold. She felt comfortable with the sacrifice, but the Colorado fashion scene barely existed. She modeled for one show in nine months and thought, for her career to thrive, she needed to live near a vogue hub like Toronto. Anxiety built up in Brendan as he knew Brittany didn’t want to live in Denver for a second year.
The strain of two dreams and one child made it impossible to be a couple. This past summer, Brittany and Brendan stopped dating. They currently share custody of Jagger and remain in close contact.
“For him to excel, Jagger’s got to be a part of his life,” grandfather Scott Smith said. “He can’t go away and not see Jagger for weeks or months at a time. He just wouldn’t be the same person or the same player because of that.”
Courtesy of Brittany Sobeski
henever Brendan and Brittany drove past the Carrier Dome on the way to or from St. Joseph’s Hospital, Brendan would say, “I hope I can play there one day.”
Brendan had tried two or three times to call coach Tierney and tell him he intended to transfer, but the courage to do so never appeared. It was one of the harder things he’d ever had to do. The call disappointed Tierney, but Brendan recalled him understanding. Now, for the first time, Brendan will play in the city most tied to him and his son.
Jagger remains the primary reason for Brendan’s transfer, but he also said that he would’ve liked more playing time than he received as a second-line midfielder. (Tierney declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Since transferring, Brendan’s five younger brothers and sisters, ranging from 5 to 15 years old, no longer ask, “How many sleeps until Brendan comes home?”
Unlike when he was at Denver, Brendan’s siblings now know the answer: not many. He visited multiple times a month last semester, and while that number will lessen during lacrosse season, he’s still only a four-hour car ride away.
That also means Jagger. Brendan’s absence sometimes makes it harder for him, Brittany said, when other dads pick up their kids at daycare.
“Every time I feel Jagger misses him, I feel guilty and I come right to Syracuse,” Brittany said. “I want Jagger to be happy, and I want Jagger to be with his dad.”
Brendan’s adjusted to the new school by bringing Jagger along while hanging out with teammates. When Brittany and his son are in Syracuse, the three often eat out on Erie Boulevard with senior midfielder Sergio Salcido. Once, at Moe’s, Jagger chugged a medium sweet tea “faster than I’ve ever seen someone chug before,” Salcido said, laughing.
Sophomore attack Nate Solomon often has the three over to his South Campus apartment and jokes he likes the son more than the father. The parents once had to calm Jagger down because a fake rhino paperweight in the bathroom freaked him out. Looking back, Solomon and Salcido said, Jagger helped the transfer not feel like one.
Brendan has big dreams for him and his new teammates. He is someone who has already watched teammates celebrate a national championship. He’d like to do it again, but this time play with them. And, most of all, he wants Jagger with him.
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rendan drove the back roads on the way home at the end of fall semester. He makes rides in his Lincoln MKZ feel shorter by singing along to country music. At the Canadian border, the two-lane highway became a single lane.
He passed farmland, wind turbines and snow-covered empty plains. He stopped once in two hours, for a school bus dropping a kid off at an intersection. The further he drove, the more purple flags flew printed with the Hiawatha belt.
They reminded Brendan where he came from: his family, his ancestors, his people. The ones he plays for. They’re what make an end-of-semester, four-hour car ride possible, as opposed to a four-hour flight.
Brendan arrived at his Ohsweken home, and no one seemed surprised to see him. Siblings and cousins continued their War card game. Jagger walked over wearing a T-shirt that read, “Dad’s All-Star MVP.” A wooden lacrosse stick sat atop the living room mantle.
Amy and Patrick put everything away they thought Jagger could throw. He found a mini hockey stick and a ball, anyway, and began swinging it all over the family’s living room.
“Whoa,” Brendan said. “Careful!”
This is what he missed seeing before the transfer. Brendan scooped up his son, who tugged at his short-sleeved camouflage shirt. Then he reached for his dad’s backward Oakley baseball cap.
“He knows if I have a hat on, I’m probably leaving,” Brendan said, “so he takes it off.”
But now when Brendan leaves, Jagger knows he’ll be back soon.
Banner photo by Ally Moreo | Photo Editor
Ally Moreo | Photo Editor
Published on February 8, 2017 at 11:52 pm