Every lacrosse player can appreciate Brett Hughes’ style. He may be the toughest defender to get by in the MLL. One of the best close defenders in UVa history, Hughes started every single game of his four-year career with the Cavaliers and was a 2x All-American. Post-college, Hughes was the first pick in the 2005 MLL Supplemental Draft. Picked by the New Jersey Pride, he spent 2 years with the club before moving over to the LA Riptide. After the Riptide’s disbandment in February, Hughes found himself fighting for an MLL Title this season for the Denver Outlaws, alongside his roommate Kyle Harrison.
Perhaps even more impressive than his on-field accolades and fearless work-ethic is the fact that Brett Hughes constantly gives back to the game off the field. As a player, coach and mentor, he has developed a deep appreciation for the community, friendships, and life skills that lacrosse can provide. In an effort to spread the game and bring the lacrosse community together to realize the true meaning of the sport, Brett recently co-founded Lacrosse the Nations, a non-profit organization “using lacrosse and the universal language of sport to bring unity, hope, and joy into the heart of the difficult and impoverished communities worldwide.”
Earlier this week we caught up with Brett Hughes, asking him some questions about playing in the MLL and what it’s like to travel and build an organization like Lacrosse the Nations. Below is our conversation.
LAS: What did you think of Championship Weekend in Annapolis? (i.e. Good venue? Best champ weekend event yet?)
Bret Hughes: Championship weekend was great… The weather was a bit crazy so I think that kept fans from coming out the way they could have. Other than it being crazy hot, I love Annapolis. It’s easy to get to and that field and stadium are as nice as you can find. To bad we can’t have it in Southern CA.
In your opinion, who are the top 3 attackmen in the MLL today?
Bret Hughes: Hard question to answer… I don’t want to give too much credit to these guys (laughs). Some of the guys who give me trouble may not be in my top 3 attackmen which is kind of strange but certain styles give me issues. The top 3 guys in the MLL right now – John Grant (the guy can do it all), Brendan Mundorf (he is growing every year into an amazing player and remains unselfish and smart), and I would have to say Kevin Leveille. I don’t know if I would call him an attackman.. but I think he is just incredible and a perfect teammate. (Sean Morris, Matt Dinowski, Ryan Boyle are all serious, too.)
If I have my facts right you just finished your 5th year in the MLL, meaning you’ve been around the league long enough to know its struggles and observe its progress. In your mind, where do you see the MLL 5 years from now?
Bret Hughes: It is a strange thing because it could go either way. I do think more companies and sponsors need to get involved, however I won’t get into the business side of it. The lacrosse product is good. I think it’s actually getting better; the game is being changed (4th long pole was great) and the teams are all starting to play more of a team game, but at a faster pace with the 60 second shot clock. That’s the way lacrosse should be played.
Bret Hughes: That really depends on what time of year it is. The summer is crazy with ESPN RISE and the camps I run for them as well as ESPNRISE.com, MLL, helping with our football events, and trying to stay up with Lacrosse the Nations and still have a life. The “off season” is different; I usually wake up early (6-6:30 a.m.), work on some emails, and get a quick run in or rehab (my ankle is still not fixed) and then into work and meetings and hopefully wrap up around 4-5 p.m. Then maybe hit some sushi up, play basketball, catch some music or just walk around the beach. That is easily my favorite thing to do…just walk around the beach communities or marina and look at boats i can’t ever afford, although Tillman Johnson has a plan for our boat sooner or later. Then I usually work on some emails for Lacrosse the Nations, catch up with friends, girlfriend, family (time difference kinda sucks) and read. Right now I’m reading Velvet Elvis
by Rob Bell and The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain. Maybe watch some tube, only 30 Rock, Office, No Reservations, One Tree Hill now.. yup I got into it, or sports (GO BUCKS GO WAHOOS), and write a few emails to get my morning set up.
Can you tell us about Lacrosse the Nations? How did the idea form and what are some of your goals for it?
Bret Hughes: How much time ya got? It’s a growing community of lacrosse players, coaches, enthusiasts, retailers, refs, etc. who see the power of mentoring through our sport to help communities in need all over the world and in our own “home turf.” The idea was set in motion with a great friend, Brad Corrigan, who played lacrosse at Middlebury before he went on to an amazing music career with the band Dispatch and now his own band Braddigan. He is responsible for finding La Chureca and becoming a part of that community and “earning” a right for us and our family and friends to be heard and viewed. He had been a great mentor in that way. Brad has made sure that we all see the difference in putting a Band-Aid on a community versus actually becoming part of the community and helping them from the inside out; that is the only way to truly bring lasting change. Hopefully more and more families will reach out and can move out of the dump like some already have and that we can help push for a different life.
Some of our goals are simple at first. To teach the game at a very fundamental level and have it be seen as a team activity and use it to create the platform to teach important life lessons – the importance of family, school, respect for others guys, girls, parents – and also to show them how much fun it is to be part of a group and to do something constructive versus working in the trash dump or being subjected to the harsh reality of what can happen when exposed to that. We have started to create a field every time we go down and the kids view that as a place to play, smile and forget about what’s going on outside that fence and just be kids and learn and be loved the way we all deserve. It can’t go without saying that these families, kids, and community as a whole have opened doors and shown us what it looks like to really smile in the face of adversity and continue to work and survive when the world provides little opportunity.
We hope to find more people willing to expand and create lasting thumbprints as part of communities worldwide. State side we have high schools, retailers, individuals and clubs wanting to fundraise and help lacrosse stand for something so much greater than just wins and losses, goals and assists – this is allowing all who are involved a chance to play and stand for something much bigger than ourselves.
The pictures of La Chureca depict a pretty rough area. What was the most eye-opening aspect of the trip? The most rewarding?
Bret Hughes: The most eye-opening experience aspect was one, that there is a place on earth like this, its poverty at the harshest level in a place that literally looks like a hell on earth with open fires, trash, smoke, and a way of living that is frankly unbelievable. The second part of this is the real eye opener…that within this community are some of the most loving and special people in the world who have the most amazing dispositions and hearts on earth. I have learned far more than I could ever teach in this place, and they are as patient and amazing as any group I have ever met. That is the most rewarding that I, “pelo loco,” have been accepted as family and that Brad, our groups and I have been welcomed as far more than just service groups which come and go. That we are all family and that these people are willing to accept our advice, help and really want to make changes to get out of the dump and make the best efforts at a safer life.
I hear you’re headed back to Nicaragua soon. Can you tell us about your plans? Who’s going with you?
Bret Hughes: We are headed down on the 2nd for a week. It’s the rainy season and we are finding some different projects to help out with and spend some time at the School of Hope inside the dump and obviously play some lacrosse and get the kids out and around us and the sport. This is a smaller group as we are finalizing some concepts to really expand and begin our fundraising efforts in the states. So we hope the lax community spends some time on our website and feels the same passion and pull to help make a change and get involved at some level.
Bret Hughes: Check the website and sign up for e-mails of events. We are in the process of working with high school programs and are hearing people come out with incredible, authentic ways for their lax community, team, or even family to raise some money and help fund our next trip and our next community. We hope to have a few lacrosse auctions, tournaments, clinics, and service projects in the states to continue to grow and expand our community of people who want more from our sport and to really see what this game can do.
What do you think of Kyle Harrison’s taste in music? Can you do better?
Bret Hughes: Harri is all hip hop on that list… I think he may be holding back on some of his songs (laughs). I don’t know one of those songs for some reason, and the reason you can’t find “Triplin’s Traxx” is pretty funny. Ask Kyle more about that one (laughs). Music is a big thing in our house and we both absolutely love it. We line up 75% in the music we like, it’s just that we like different genres (laughs). I can’t stand Weezy most of the time either.
My Top 5 changes always… right now:
Check them out along with Braddigan… I can’t wait till Brother Brad puts out a new CD – guaranteed to crack that list.
Bret Hughes: Greatest sport! I love football, I was raised on football, but lacrosse has the best people involved in the sport, the ability to play forever (I havent played football since I left it in high school), and it’s rough enough, slick enough, and involves so much skill and speed; I think that everyone who plays enjoys it. And if you watch a game or two live and see how simple it really is (soccer field and basketball schemes with hockey violence), you get hooked. Not to mention how accessible the “super stars” are – you can meet the Adrian Peterson, the Brett Favre of lacrosse at an MLL game if you want and probably end up playing catch with him, too. How many times has a kid played catch with Derek Jeter? It doesn’t happen.