When Terry Riordan gives a thumbnail version of his life, he fails to relate anything suggesting that he might become the leading goal-scorer on the nation's top-rated college lacrosse team, the position in which he finds himself today. His athletic career at Baldwin (N.Y.) High? "Aw, I was just this really tall, rail-thin kid," he says. "I even had a long geeky neck." The scholarship offers he attracted from several lacrosse powers and a few Division I-AA football programs? Clearly mistakes. "My high school football coach always joked that I ran as if my feet were stuck in cement," Riordan says.
Actually, the 6'5", 215-pound Riordan runs a respectable 4.8-second 40-yard dash. "That's only on a good day," he insists. Nor does he claim to be the shiftiest of players. "I try dodging people; I'm just not very good at it," Riordan says, wincing. However, he does not dispute that he has fallen for existential philosophy. "Kierkegaard, Nietzsche—I love those guys!" he says.
Given Riordan's difficulty in taking a compliment, it seems that he is yet to absorb Nietzsche's concept of the superman. Halfway through his senior season at Johns Hopkins—which has the most storied lacrosse program in the nation—the 21-year-old Riordan has already shattered the school record of 152 career goals. With 163 goals, including 31 so far this season, he has an outside chance of breaking the collegiate record of 193. Last Saturday, Riordan scored five goals, including the game-winner with 12 seconds remaining, to lift the Blue Jays to a 16-15 victory over third-ranked Maryland. He's a cinch to win All-America honors for the fourth straight year, and Johns Hopkins, which improved its record to 8-0 with the Maryland win, is favored to win the NCAA championship.
Although the Blue Jays have been to the NCAA semifinals twice in Riordan's career, they haven't won the championship since 1987—a sore spot for a lacrosse-mad school that owns 42 national crowns. The Lacrosse Hall of Fame is a mere two-minute walk from the lacrosse stadium on Johns Hopkins' Baltimore campus. The Blue Jays often draw 8,000 to 10,000 fans to home games. "And believe me, those 8,000 people sound like a million sometimes," says Riordan. "When I first got here and saw the alumni, the attention and all that, I thought, Holy cow. This is really serious."
Riordan has become a serious part of Hopkins lore with his goal-scoring. He doesn't pass oil much, and he doesn't tear through traffic on zigzagging scoring runs. What Riordan does best is wheel around the picks his teammates set for him and shoot on the run. His height and reach help him fend off defenders. "Then his shot comes in on the net at about 98 or 100 miles an hour," says Hopkins coach Tony Seaman. "He also puts the ball in great spots. That's what makes him incredible."
Riordan? Incredible? He can't even countenance the thought right now. With the national title still undecided, he says, "I don't want to jinx myself or the team."
Once that's settled, Riordan will face his other big worry of the moment: settling on a career. His degree will be in sociology, but he says he would like to pursue acting. When asked if he has taken any drama classes, he says, "No." Been in any high school plays? "None." Ever try karaoke, amateur night at a local comedy club? "Nothing. I'd just like to try acting. I don't even know if I have any ability."
He surely wouldn't admit it if he did.