This Maryland high school player profiles series is presented by the U.S. Army.
By Joe Lotano, CountySportsZone.com
Following a two-loss season and an appearance in the 2018 Class 4A state semifinal, the Howard High School boys’ lacrosse team had taken a step back heading into its game against Franklin High at the halfway point of the 2019 season.
The Lions then let their guard down against Franklin, dropping a road game against a conference foe that had struggled up to that point.
A shadow of doubt, frustration and disappointment crept into the locker room after the game for some of the players in the typically solid program. What followed the crushing loss, however, was a spark lit by a determined group of upperclassmen, including Jeff Bruner. And that spark ignited a rally in the second half of the season.
“As a team, we all became closer together from that moment,” Bruner said of that loss against Franklin, “and I took a lot of learning moments from them.”
Howard ended the 2019 season with a close defeat to powerhouse Severna Park, which marked the Lions’ first state championship appearance since 2016. Bruner was a junior midfielder on the 2019 team and a senior captain in 2020.
Howard head coach Jimmy Creighton describes Bruner as an ultra-competitive player who is always working to improve.
“You want your guys to play with a little bit of an attitude and to hone that attitude and put it in a positive way for the team,” Creighton said. “He’s just driven. He wants to succeed.”
Creighton said that in the early years of Bruner’s varsity tenure, the coaches would have to help remind Bruner to operate with a “next-play mentality.”
“He had a little hard time because he was so overly competitive and wanted to succeed at a high level,” Creighton said. “He didn’t want to disappoint his teammates or himself.”
From then on, Bruner was a cog in Howard’s offensive attack and became a valuable player as a freshman.
Bruner played three sports in high school but still found ways to perfect his craft on the lacrosse field. From taking strength and conditioning classes taught by Creighton to nearly year-round club lacrosse participation with the Maryland RoughRiders, Bruner always stayed in shape for the spring.
He was also influenced by his two older brothers, Mark and Scott. Mark was a three-time first-team All-Howard County selection before graduating in 2018, while oldest brother Scott played at Siena College before walking on at the University of Maryland in 2016.
“Just being the youngest, he definitely took a few beatings from me and [Mark] when we would get into some serious sports games,” Scott said. “I think that kind of molded him into the player he is today: a super tough kid who doesn’t let much get by him.”
Looking back on the locker room discussion after the team’s loss to Franklin and the countless other instances of Bruner’s leadership, Creighton said it became a no-brainer to him and the rest of the coaching staff to name Jeff a captain ahead of his senior season.
The COVID-19 pandemic halted what could’ve been a special season, but bigger things are on the horizon for Bruner, who will bring his competitive spirit to the Salisbury men’s lacrosse program. Scott believes he is more than up to the task to make a seamless transition to college lacrosse.
“His work ethic will [translate] over really well on the field,” Scott said. “… He’s always going to give 110 percent.”