Straight from the big screens of Los Angeles to the bright stadium lights of Ferris State University could describe the journey Dan Usaj has taken to become the head coach of the school’s Club Lacrosse team.
Usaj, 30, has been playing lacrosse – a sport he deeply loves – since he was a third-grader and has been coaching various high school and college teams since he was 22.
He has another strong passion – one that helped initially attract him to Michigan and ultimately to Ferris’ Club Lacrosse team. That passion is acting.
A motivated Usaj has developed an acting career that includes performances last year in the film “Another Happy Day” that featured Demi Moore, Kate Bosworth and Thomas Hayden Church and in “The Christmas Bunny” with Florence Henderson in 2010.
Usaj, who lives in Grand Rapids, has worked hard to balance his time auditioning as an actor with coaching lacrosse at Ferris on a full-time basis. He has lived in Michigan for two years since the highly-publicized Michigan Film Office incentives began to attract filmmakers. For Usaj, and others in the film industry, those incentives represented valuable opportunities in the state. One of those valuable opportunities, for Usaj, involved coaching. In an effort to balance his two passions, he has worked works closely with the lacrosse team and his agent to make the situation work. He attends team practices as regularly as possible, coaches in games and auditions as opportunities present themselves.
“Acting is never full time. It’s rarely a full-time gig because of the auditions and callbacks. I’ve been quite lucky and booked a lot of jobs in the past six years. If I do have to act, I will let the team know,” Usaj said.
As Usaj arrived in Michigan, he became aware of another opportunity. When Usaj learned about Ferris’ open lacrosse coaching position, he jumped at a shot to feed his passion for the sport. During his time in the position, he has been impressed with the student-athletes he has had the opportunity to work with at Ferris.
“It’s the most dedicated group I’ve ever coached. They practice what I preach: discipline and hard work,” said Usaj, whose voice can be heard beyond Ferris’ Top Taggart Field stadium turf during competition and practice sessions. His distinctive voice also has been used in five national energy commercials.
Usaj has coached teams from around the nation such as Chagrin Falls High School in Cleveland, Ohio; Harvard Westlake School in Los Angeles and the University of Southern California. Coaching lacrosse, he believes, has impacted his life as an actor. Usaj, a theatre graduate from St. Lawrence University in New York, translates what he learns on the field to the bright lights of Hollywood.
“Every kid I coach is unique; sometimes I take their attributes and put them to a character. One time I had a really quirky goalie and I had a character I had to audition for, too. I definitely put some of his mannerisms into it,” Usaj said.
He encourages the 30-plus Ferris lacrosse student-athletes, competing for a program that was founded in 1998, to take what they learn on the field and adapt it to their lives. Usaj wants each student-athlete to succeed “not only in the classroom, but on the field.”
“With discipline, I hope they can become better men and all-around responsible mature young adults in the community,” Usaj said.
The team has a current record of 9-5 this season against the likes of Central Michigan University, DePaul University, Western Michigan University, Oakland University, Hope College, Grand Valley State University and Northwood University.
Brian DeVries, a junior student-athlete from Holland, currently serves as Club Lacrosse president while Carla Miller, associate vice president for Advancement, serves as the student-organization’s advisor.