There are some mornings when Gary Raniolo is actually grateful he has to be up in time for the 7 a.m. practices that Fairfield University's men's lacrosse team has been holding this fall.
After all, once that's over - and on days when his class schedule is light - he can hang out on the beach.
For the 2005 Yorktown graduate, and two former high school rivals - Matt Petre, who was an all-American at Somers, and Billy Honovich, who was a standout for Lakeland/Panas - it also happens to be home.
In their fourth year as not only teammates - but in sharing the same living quarters - they've saved the best for last.
"You walk out in the backyard, and you're right near the water," Raniolo said. "At night, when you're inside, you can hear the sound of the water. Let's put it this way: This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - to be 21 years old and living on the beach with your friends."
When the trio arrived at Fairfield, they were more acquaintances than friends.
"We knew each other just solely through lacrosse," Honovich said. "We met when we played Empires. Then we roomed together as freshmen and we've hit it off ever since."
Said Petre: "They get on my nerves once in a while. Every now and then, we get into verbal arguments. But if it was that bad, I wouldn't still be living with them."
Their current housing setup would be ideal even if it weren't for its locale. They each have their own room.
"All three of our rooms are right next to each other," Honovich said. "And we hang out in the living room."
The fact they are now living in beachfront accommodations that could easily pass as an MTV "Real World" house is something they were all hoping for when they committed to Fairfield.
"When they're recruiting you, they tell you about the possibility," Honovich said. "But now that we're here, it's funny the reaction we get from kids at other schools. They can't believe we're living right on the water. It's unexplainable to them."
Two of Raniolo's former high school teammates, Ryan Penner and Paul Santavicca, who now play at Marist, recently came down for a visit.
"They kept saying, 'You guys are so lucky,' " Raniolo, a midfielder, said. "We really are lucky."
Penner and Santavicca were recruited out of high school by then-Marist coach Andy Copelan, who is starting his first year as Fairfield's coach. The Stags' former coach, Ted Spencer, who was diagnosed with throat cancer last fall, is now associate athletic director at Fairfield.
Though the Stags made the NCAA tournament as recently as 2005 (the same year Copelan led Marist to its first NCAA appearance), they have struggled of late. They finished 4-9 last season, though one of the bright spots was Petre earning a spot on the all-New England Division I team.
"Things haven't panned out over our three years the way we hoped," Raniolo said. "We all came from winning programs in high school. So to come here and lose games wasn't the best experience. But we're focusing on this year. Right now, we're adapting to Coach Copelan and his staff. We have to learn a brand-new system - man up, man down, clears. We have to take it all in."
Copelan said the trio will be counted upon heavily. This past Friday, they were named three of the Stags' five captains.
"They're all leaders," Copelan said. "Gary is kind of a rah-rah guy. He's the emotional guy. Matt is more quiet confidence and he leads by example. Honovich is a combination of both. He cares so much. He's kind of the first one there and the last one to leave."
Honovich hopes his hard work will help lead to a successful finale for him and his house mates.
"I really think so," he said. "This is the closest team I've ever been a part of. There are no outcasts. We always hang out. And I think we have a really solid team. I think we can put it all together."
Reach Joe Lombardi at firstname.lastname@example.org.