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Crusader comeback

UMass provides next test for Holy Cross’s Lamkin

A knee injury in Week 3 against Harvard forced outside linebacker Sean Lamkin (41) to watch the Crusaders’ run to the Patriot League title from the sideline last season. A knee injury in Week 3 against Harvard forced outside linebacker Sean Lamkin (41) to watch the Crusaders’ run to the Patriot League title from the sideline last season. (Courtesy of Holy Cross)
By Craig Larson
Globe Staff / September 11, 2010

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For a split second, there was a pause. Sean Lamkin was breathing it all in last Saturday at Fitton Field, awaiting the whistle and the first snap of the season. A moment, he says, that was “pretty surreal.’’

Then the Holy Cross fifth-year senior, with nearly a year’s worth of aggression and anticipation penned up in his 6-foot-1-inch, 225-pound frame, unleashed a hit on Howard back Jarren Brown. He made a tackle on his first play from scrimmage since last September against Harvard, in Week 3.

“An option to my side, I thought for a second, a little bit of hesitation, made the stop, just doing my job,’’ summed up the soft-spoken Lamkin, a physical force at outside linebacker who finished the afternoon with 6 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 pass deflections in a 38-7 Holy Cross romp.

“The most important thing, was having the team win, and being able to contribute, that’s all that matters,’’ he said.

The Crusader victory sets up a nonleague matchup tonight at 18th-ranked Massachusetts, which had an impressive 27-23 come-from-behind victory over then fourth-ranked William & Mary last Saturday at McGuirk Stadium.

Lamkin is thrilled to be back on the field, delivering crunching hits, because he has absorbed a couple of hits the last 12 months. He limped off the field against Harvard with a torn left ACL and had to watch the Crusaders’ first run to the Patriot League title since 1991 from the sideline. Six months of grueling rehabilitation followed.

Back on campus this summer, Lamkin, who received a medical redshirt, worked out with his teammates and started dropping weight quickly. By early July, he was down a shocking 30 pounds, to 200.

“At first, I thought it was the intensity of the workouts, but I wasn’t eating as much, because I was always thirsty,’’ he said.

“He’s a health nut, so it was mystery, we had to coax him to go see a doctor,’’ said Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore.

A blood test revealed he had Type 1 diabetes.

His rebuilt knee became a secondary concern.

“I didn’t realize at the time, what the impact would be,’’ he said.

He took a week off to get everything under control, studying up on other athletes, such as Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who have Type 1.

Amazingly, he was back training with his teammates, within two weeks. “There was a little bit of question, earlier in camp, if he would be ready for the opener, we did not want to push it and risk injury,’’ said Gilmore, who says Lamkin’s quick return is a credit to the campus medical staff. “If he was not ready until Week 2 or 3, that would have been OK. Every few days, he would take a practice off.’’

A respected captain on and off the field who led the Crusaders in tackles in 2008, Lamkin suited up for the team’s intrasquad scrimmage a week before the opener. “I felt like I hadn’t missed a step,’’ he said. “I’ve always been a pretty agile player, not the fastest guy.’’

An economics major from Jenks, Okla., who will graduate in December, Lamkin monitors his blood-sugar level in practice and during the game, administers insulin shots, and takes the field with a brace on his left knee.

Against Howard, “he was all over the field,’’ said Gilmore, whose defensive unit also includes preseason All-Americans Mude Ohimor (end) and Anthony DiMichele (safety).

Now Gilmore’s focus turns to a balanced and physical Minuteman attack that features a potent 1-2 running punch in Northeastern transfer John Griffin and junior Jonathan Hernandez, who combined for 281 total yards last week.

Lamkin was on Fitton Field two years ago when UMass escaped with a 45-42 win on a 42-yard field goal as time expired by Armando Cuko.

“They will pound it, and the backs are very skilled,’’ said Lamkin. “A couple of years ago, we weren’t ready for the X’s and O’s. We now have more experience, and depth than we did two years ago. It’s all about the game plan.’’

The Minutemen also have a playmaker in outside linebacker Tyler Holmes, a junior captain who punctuated a 10-tackle effort last week with a game-sealing, diving interception in the fourth quarter. He’ll be in the eye of the storm against the Crusaders’ prolific spread attack with first-year starter Ryan Taggart at the trigger.

“Holy Cross likes to spread the ball around, they are a playoff team, we respect them,’’ said Holmes, a 6-foot, 220-pound preseason All-American.

Craig Larson can be reached at clarson@globe.com