The phone rang just once before Navy lacrosse coach Richie Meade picked it up. Just one more discussion in arguably the toughest week of the lives of those who knew Brendan Looney.
The former Navy defenseman was one of 10 U.S. service members killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan last month. His funeral is today, followed by burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
"It's hard to talk about it," Meade said.
It wasn't that Looney was Meade's first former player killed in action. Rather, it was the person lost in the process.
The oldest of three brothers, all of whom played for Navy in the last decade, was part of the Mids' 2004 team that reached the national title game.
"He was the best of the best for so many reasons in an unassuming way," former Navy assistant John Tillman said.
Looney's younger brothers, Steve and Billy, eventually enjoyed All-America-caliber careers. Brendan, though, was a crucial component on the team that revitalized Navy's program.
"We had a great team, but there's no doubt Brendan Looney was the toughest man on that team," Meade said. "That's not to slight anybody else. There were a lot of great men on that team. But he was our Achilles. He wasn't the best player. He wasn't a lot of things, but he was who he was. That is the toughest thing to me. Somebody told me 'Brendan loved you,' and that's like elevating me. Brendan would have loved anybody who was his coach because that's who Brendan was. When you were around him, you just felt OK."
Tillman, an assistant at Navy during Looney's career who is now Maryland's head coach, remembered when Looney first started playing. He was a member of the Mids' football team when he first arrived in college, and with at least one brother on the way to Annapolis opted to begin playing lacrosse.
As a college sophomore.
Tillman said the initial returns on the field were what would be expected. But Looney's work ethic helped make everyone around him better, and he eventually worked his way into a solid player in Navy's complex defensive scheme.
"I can't see anybody doing what he did," Tillman said. "Today in lacrosse, you can't not play and pick up the game in college anymore. That's just amazing, but that's just him. He made the hard things for other people seem workable and attainable because he had drive and determination."
In the midst of his senior season, Meade and Tillman remembered how much the three brothers savored being on the field together for a single faceoff --- Billy at the X, Steve and Brendan on the wings. It was a lacrosse highlight, but not the most indicative moment of his career.
Instead, it was everyday instances, each further revealing traits that so impressed Meade as a coach and ensured Brendan Looney would thrive after leaving the academy.
That meant transferring from the Navy's intelligence community to its SEAL program --- and finishing at the top of his qualification training class.
"Brendan wasn't tough; Brendan was ferocious," Meade said. "He was a great athlete. He was mentally one of the toughest --- if not in that category of guys who are so tough you can't even describe them --- and so competitive. Brendan didn't have a choice. He was going to be a SEAL because that's as high as you can go here competitively."
But lacrosse always remained part of his life --- and kept him tied to Navy's program. During a blustery February evening earlier this year, a t-shirt-clad Looney watched the Mids play North Carolina at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Meade offered his old player a jacket, figuring it couldn't be pleasant standing around in frigid conditions. Looney declined, offering a knowing look in the process. Meade got it: Looney would face more inhospitable things down the road, and shrug them off just like the cold.
"That's the hardest thing," Tillman said. "You see this guy who was indestructible and you knew one-on-one, no one would take that guy down. Nobody was going to stop that guy. He had this mental toughness and physical toughness and also was really smart. The only way things [could go wrong] was if he was not in control of the situation."
Meade promised that Looney would always be part of Navy's program as a standard for all players to shoot for throughout their careers. It will be a difficult ideal to match.
Or to forget. Meade held back tears several times in a half-hour discussion. He talked about practices, about Looney teaching fellow SEALs how to play lacrosse when they weren't on assignment in Afghanistan, about his former player's devotion to family.
And how the future just won't be quite the same.
"I told my wife that I don't have any bravado over this; we've got to move on, have to come to work after this, and that's all going to happen," Meade said. "But I'm never getting over this. It's not about me. The reason I'm never going to get over it --- and I'll think of him every day until I die --- is it's always difficult when somebody dies like this so early in life. What you think about is some little boy or little girl is never going to have Brendan Looney as his or her father. And he would be good. He'd be a better father than me. Those are the types of things, the immediate-impact things, you think about that make it so difficult."