For Bailey Tills ’16 and Jack Kelly ’16, the five months from April to August are comprised of working two jobs, and they are on the clock seven days a week. Most Fridays during this time, Tills leaves his technology sales job in San Francisco and catches a flight to Denver. On the opposite side of the country, Kelly departs his financial services consulting job in New York City, flying west to the Rocky Mountains.
They land in Denver and go immediately to a 9 p.m. practice. The following morning, they wake up, have a walkthrough and play a game in front of thousands of fans. The former Brown men’s lacrosse standouts from last year’s semifinal team then fly home Sunday night and get some rest — they have work the next morning.
This is the life of a Major League Lacrosse player for the Denver Outlaws. After four-year careers at Brown that included a trip to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament in their senior season, Tills and Kelly were reunited at the professional level.
Kelly was drafted March 2016 at the start of his senior season. Following the Bears’ semifinal loss to Maryland and the two seniors’ graduation, Tills received a text from Outlaws Assistant General Manager Jon Cohen asking him to join the team. Tills jumped at the opportunity to further his lacrosse career and play with a friend. He was on the practice squad for a week before joining the team for the final eight games of the season.
As a child growing up in Denver, Tills remembers being 12 or 13 years old when the Outlaws became a team. From then on, he knew he wanted to be a professional lacrosse player.
Kelly grew up on West Islip, Long Island, a place he describes as “a big lacrosse town.” Having played lacrosse since kindergarten or first grade, he was a serious fan from a young age. “I’d go to the Final Four pretty much every year with all my family and friends,” Kelly said. “Then, when I knew that there was a pro league, I obviously said that’s something I wanted to do.”
When he was drafted, there was no doubt in his mind that he wanted to continue his lacrosse career. “For me, it was an automatic yes. It was something I really wanted to do, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to play,” Kelly said.
Both Tills, an attackman, and Kelly, a goalie, had successful careers at Brown, leading the Bears to an Ivy League regular season title in their final year.
Kelly had an especially illustrious collegiate career. A captain his junior and senior years, Kelly was a two-time first-team All-Ivy selection and a two-time All-New England selection. He was also a United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association first-team All-American his senior year.
Kelly’s success translated to the professional level, as he was named Rookie of the Year for his efforts in net for the Outlaws — the first goalie to earn the award.
The MLL game is faster paced due to a 60-second shot clock, but that has not fazed either player. Both gave credit to former Brown Offensive Coordinator Sean Kirwin’s fast-paced style of play for helping to prepare them for the next level. In the MLL, “the rules are a little bit different,” Tills said. “There’s a two point shot, and there’s a 60 second shot clock, so it’s a lot faster paced than normal college lacrosse. But the fact that we played fast at Brown last year really helped make that transition smooth,” he added.
In addition to the pace of play, the competition is fiercer in the pros. College players “can shoot it really fast, or they can shoot it a little slower and really place the ball. Only really the best guys can do both,” Kelly said. “But everybody in the MLL is that guy. … They were the All-American who can rip the ball and place it in the corners.”
Despite the transition, both immediately found success on the Outlaws, featuring on an MLL Championship run last August. “Ending 2016 on a win — on a high note with one of my best friends — was probably … the most memorable part of it all,” Tills said.
In Denver, the Brown duo gets to play in Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, the home of the Denver Broncos. The team’s Fourth of July game packs the stands, regularly drawing about 30,000 fans.
“To be honest with you, I’d rather play on (Stevenson-Pincince Field) any day of the week,” Tills said. “We had the best fans at Brown.”
Now, Tills is a fan himself. “I try to watch every game on the Ivy League Network,” he said.
While they are flying around the country during the summer months, Kelly and Tills often get to play against some familiar faces and old friends. Brendan Caputo ’16 and John Yozzo-Scapperrota ’16 play for the Charlotte Hounds, Will Gural ’16 plays for the Florida Launch and Kylor Bellistri ’16 plays for the Boston Cannons.
While Major League Lacrosse is far from the most popular professional sport, Kelly and Tills see it growing. “I definitely think if people got to watch it a little more and understood the rules, they’d really fall in love with the fast-paced, high-scoring, (physical game),” Tills said.
Tills and Kelly want to be a part of the growth, but keeping a job in the MLL is not as easy as keeping their desk jobs. The fact there are only nine teams, and the admiration that fans have for young players who are fresh out of college, can yield brief careers in the League, Tills said. There is “a pretty high turnover rate in the MLL,” Tills added. “I would love to play as long as I can.”
Kelly agrees. “At this point in time, I’m going to play until my body gives out,” he said.
In less than a month, the two second-year players will trot out onto the mile-high grass for training camp. While they will be wearing orange and black, they are bonded by their time in a Brown uniform.
“Bailey’s one of my best friends, so it’s great to go out there and have a familiar face right away,” Kelly said. “Bailey and I shared a lot of cool experiences at Brown for the last four years … just to be able to continue that is really something special.”