When Maryland men’s lacrosse junior defender Brett Makar heads towards the bleachers at Maryland Stadium postgame, there’s usually a special guest waiting there for him, smiling from ear to ear.
In this COVID environment where masks and social distancing have become the norm, the exuberance and excitement of Brett’s older brother Keith provides a sense of normalcy.
Behind their masks, both brothers share a smile communicating in their secret language that no one else can understand.
“He always has that big smile on his face,” Brett said. “It’s hard to see through the mask, but I know just through his body language he’s happy.”
“It’s fun because I know that they have these crazy sayings they’ll say to each other,” Liz Makar added. “I don’t know what it means half the time, they have their own little language that they’ll do.”
As Keith is bursting with pride for his younger brother’s success, there’s no focus on his challenges as someone with special needs. 25 years old and the oldest of the four Makar boys, Keith has autism.
However, Keith’s inability to participate in competitive athletics hasn’t prevented Brett from building a tight-knit relationship with his brother. In fact, it’s helped the two foster an even stronger bond with Keith serving as a source of inspiration for Brett.
Growing up in Yorktown, New York, Brett showcased supreme athletic talent in multiple sports including lacrosse and football. Utilizing those talents on both the football and lacrosse fields, Brett never took his athletic gift for granted, cognizant that Keith often didn’t have the same opportunity.
“I think for me and all my brothers just growing up I know our parents always put a big emphasis on never taking anything for granted,” Brett said. “The ability to play sports or even go out with your friends for granted just because a lot of stuff my brother Keith wasn’t able to do. I always remember my mom saying to us my brother Tyler and Evan, ‘what was taken from Keith was kind of spread out amongst you guys’.”
“I always said that my boys were Keith’s best therapists.”
Along with his brothers Tyler and Evan, Brett helped Keith grow in ways that no therapist or program ever could. While often older siblings help their younger siblings mature, it was Brett, Tyler and Evan who helped Keith grow.
All three boys aided Keith in improving his social skills. They also assisted their parents driving him to some of his programs or helping him get ready in the morning. That assistance allowed all four brothers’ relationship to grow even stronger.
“I always said that my boys were Keith’s best therapists,” Liz said. “All the therapists that we ever hired didn’t compare to his brothers. They taught him just peer modeling and sometimes appropriate behaviors. He wanted to be like his brothers.”
While Brett, Evan and Tyler were excelling on the athletic fields, Keith excelled in other areas including horseback riding where the whole family showed support.
With a May birthday, Keith often would be celebrating around the same time as the lacrosse team dinners were held. Brett, his brothers and their friends always included Keith at those dinners or at other team-related activities.
Now with Brett and Tyler both playing lacrosse at the collegiate level, Keith is either accompanying his parents to Philadelphia or College Park to watch his brothers play. Tyler is a graduate student who also plays defense at St. Joe’s.
Whether he’s traveling to either place, Keith’s excitement in the car is palpable. The morning car ride usually starts with a “muscle sandwich” as Keith Makar calls them, often a bacon egg & cheese on a roll. After the muscle sandwich, the excitement kicks in when Keith inquires whether they’re going to see Brett or Tyler play.
“He gets excited at times,” Liz said of the car ride. “He’ll repeat and wants to know which state we’re going to this weekend. “He just gets pumped up, he likes his rituals.”
Those road trips offer Keith another opportunity to support and embrace his younger brothers, while they’re excelling on the lacrosse field. It also provides his day with more structure along with something to look forward to.
Keith can’t enjoy the typical social life of a 24 or 25-year-old man, but that doesn’t stop him from bringing a renewed excitement week after week to cheer on his siblings.
“He’s not afraid to lead and say what he thinks.”
Brett’s relationship with Keith and that heightened sense of gratitude, has also furthered his development on the field. That elevated sense of appreciation has slowly molded him into one of the team’s unquestioned leaders. When the team huddled up pregame against in-state rival Johns Hopkins, Brett was the one who delivered the fiery pregame speech.
“He’s more confident and he’s getting other guys in the right spots and he’s communicating,” head coach John Tillman said. “He’s not afraid to lead and say what he thinks and that’s been huge for us.”
When Brett first entered the Terps program in 2018, he was the No. 4 recruit in the country with lofty expectations. However, his increased comfortability with this year’s roster has allowed him to seamlessly transition into a natural leader.
“He’s made of all the right stuff,” defensive coordinator Jesse Bernhardt said. “It’s just getting him to vocalize those things.”
That leadership also has been a vital component of the defense’s success, limiting opponents to an average of 9.2 goals per game so far this season, which is the lowest in the Big Ten.
Whether it’s helping a younger defender move into the right position or providing encouragement, Brett’s leadership prowess has been impactful. It’s also a testament to his team-oriented personality and willingness to provide whatever the team needs to succeed.
“It comes naturally because I really care about this group we have and the guys we have so much that I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help them out,” Brett said. “I just want to be the best version of myself and bring the most I possibly can to the table.”
“Whatever he did he took it to the next level.”
In addition to his evolving leadership style, Brett’s competitive fire and desire to be the best is also a byproduct of his relationship with his brothers, especially Tyler. He’s two years older than Brett and growing up Brett tried to beat him in any athletic endeavor.
As children, they’d play football and Tyler would explain the rules, while Brett often broke them in an effort to beat his brother. That competitiveness extended beyond football into other sports, dating back to when he was five years old.
“I remember being out in the 90-degree weather with him when he was five years old playing wiffleball,” Liz said. “He would just have me throw to him for hours and I was like, ‘Brett please we have to go in now.’ He always wanted to make sure that he could get it over the fence. Whatever he did he took it to the next level, always been that way.”
While Tillman recruited Brett out of Yorktown High School, he quickly learned about Makar’s competitiveness from his friend Timmy Schurr. Schurr is the head lacrosse coach at John Jay High School, one of Brett’s rival high schools in Westchester County.
He explained to Tillman that despite the fact that Brett was a three-time All American and one of the best players in the county, he hustled to the end-line every sprint trying to win every one. That high standard has transitioned seamlessly into College Park, where the Terps’ mantra is exactly that “Be the Best.”
When the pandemic prematurely ended last season, Brett returned to Yorktown with his brothers. Immediately upon arriving home, the boys built a gym and an outdoor shower in the family’s backyard. That gym offered another opportunity for Brett’s competitive fire to ignite and an added opportunity to spend time with his brothers he wouldn’t have in a typical season.
Spending that extra time, Brett’s gratitude and appreciation for his relationship with his brothers only intensified.
The words gratitude and appreciation define the special bond that Brett shares with his brothers, especially, Keith.
Those ideals have fostered his development on and off the lacrosse field from Yorktown to 262 miles south in College Park.