Growing up in West Hartford, Conn., newly-hired Tufts men’s lacrosse head coach Casey D’Annolfo (LA ’06) was surrounded by sports all year-round. Playing football, basketball and baseball throughout his childhood, he quickly developed a competitive and athletic drive.
However, it was not until later in his upbringing that D’Annolfo’s father introduced him to lacrosse. His father coached the sport at the time and D’Annolfo quickly realized his passion for the sport.
“My dad was a typical ’70s gym teacher who coached everything that they asked him to coach,” D’Annolfo said. “So he picked up lacrosse for a few years, even though he had never played it … and when I was in sixth grade he told me to try it, I tried it, liked it and kept playing it.”
D’Annolfo went on to play football, basketball and lacrosse at Tufts, playing quarterback for the football team and as a four-year contributor for the lacrosse team. He is credited as the only athlete in Tufts history to have thrown a touchdown in football, scored a goal in lacrosse and made a field goal in basketball during his collegiate career. On top of the success he enjoyed in each sport, he credits playing three sports for his impressive ability to avoid injury during his career as a Jumbo.
“[Playing three sports] was key in terms of injury prevention,” D’Annolfo said. “You would think that playing a lot of sports, you would be more likely to get hurt, but I always found that I was always healthier if I was playing a lot of sports. I did nine seasons here [and] I missed two practices.”
D’Annolfo was hired in August after longtime head coach Mike Daly was hired by Brown in July to coach its surging, top-tier Div. I program. Daly coached Tufts from 1999-2016 and guided the program to three NCAA titles (2010, 2014, 2015) and seven straight NESCAC titles (2010-2016) during his tenure.
Though this is his first collegiate-level coaching job, D’Annolfo still boasts an impressive coaching resume. After graduating from Tufts in 2006, he went on to coach at the Taft School in Connecticut. He started as an assistant for a year and then quickly took over the head coaching role, revitalizing the school’s lacrosse program and building it up to be one of the premier high school programs in the country. When he started in 2007, the team was ranked No. 802 nationally in the USA Today high school polls and sat at the bottom of the highly competitive Founders League conference. D’Annolfo coached the team to a top 20 ranking by 2014, and the team finished this spring with a Founders League title and a No. 18 ranking in the USA Today rankings.
“When I got [to Taft], the lacrosse job opened up and they asked me if I wanted to do it. I was 23 and liked being in charge, so I took the job,” D’Annolfo said. “We were terrible, but that was really good for me because I got to try a lot of things out, nobody really had any expectations and we just figured out what worked and just got better and better.”
Over his nine seasons at Taft, D’Annolfo saw 70 of his players go on to play in college, including eight high school All-American players.
D’Annolfo admitted that when he began coaching, he never envisioned his current career path.
“My initial plan was not to coach lacrosse,” D’Annolfo said. “My initial plan was to go and work at Taft for two years and then go coach college football at the Div. I level.”
Starting out as a head coach so fresh off of his own playing career, D’Annolfo said he had to learn a lot on the fly. He said he found plenty of mentors, ranging from his father to his coaches growing up to his coaches in college — namely, Daly, under whom D’Annolfo played during his time at Tufts. D’Annolfo cites Daly as a major influence for him not just in coaching style, but also on his development as a young college athlete.
“His major influences have been life lessons and not lacrosse. How to build a program, how to build culture, those were the most impactful things coach Daly taught me,” D’Annolfo said.
D’Annolfo now faces a different challenge as he comes into a Tufts program with an established legacy of success. D’Annolfo does not want to shy away from the expectations placed on the team due to its success under Daly’s leadership.
“I think that a lot of people would see that as a lot of pressure, but for me this would be my tenth season as a head coach, I know what works and what doesn’t,” D’Annolfo said. “I coached 14-19 years olds and what motivates those guys is very similar to what motivates 18-22 year olds. I’m not nervous to get started, I’m just very excited.”