Dane Leclair would stand in the front row at Loyola soccer games to cheer on his fellow Ramblers. He’d take over the public address microphone at women’s volleyball games. He was a hard-charging captain of the men’s volleyball team.
Leclair, a 2019 Loyola graduate known for his colorful personality, died at 22 years old after falling from a parking garage in Lincoln, Nebraska Oct. 27, police said. A native of Pittsford, New York, Leclair worked at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a graduate manager for the women’s volleyball team while pursuing his master’s degree in business administration.
“You find [out] the news and you’re just floored,” said Loyola men’s volleyball head coach Mark Hulse. “The kid’s 22. When you hear ‘Dane,’ he’s not supposed to be dead.”
His mom said final toxicology reports are still pending, but confirmed Leclair had been drinking the night he died.
On the court, Leclair played nearly every position despite being officially listed as a setter. He started during his senior year at Loyola and recorded career highs in kills, digs and assists. Even though his parents and coaches said he wasn’t necessarily the best player on the floor, he was named a captain that season.
Leclair was a skilled player, but his coaches also pointed to his leadership. His parents, coaches and a former teammate all recalled a 2018 match against Brigham Young University — which was ranked No. 3 in the country at that point — in which Leclair “came out guns blazing” despite not playing much before that match.
Hulse said most of the Ramblers were sick and struggling to get ready for the match, but Leclair got in his teammates’ faces to pump them up and did all he could to win the match. He led the Ramblers with 15 kills as they won 3-2. Leclair’s parents, Rebecca and Paul Leclair, watched the match on the internet from their home. Rebecca Leclair said it’s one of her favorite volleyball memories of her son.
But even though he played well in that match, Leclair might have bit off more than he could chew. He hit the ball so hard he suffered a shoulder injury and couldn’t swing for six to eight weeks afterward.
Hulse said that fully captures how Leclair played the game.
“It’s just Dane being Dane … just leaving it out there,” Hulse said. “He was just a maniac on the court.”
Leclair’s intensity on the volleyball court dates back to when he was in high school. Rebecca Leclair said he’d try to be the best player on the court.
As he went all-out to win matches, he was a serious competitor, but not a ferocious one. Rebecca Leclair said her son once spiked a ball into an opposing player’s face when he was in high school. His teammates celebrated as any team would — by high-fiving and smiling.
But Leclair wasn’t with them. Instead, he walked under the net to check on the player he hit. It was only after making sure he was alright that he went and celebrated with his teammates.
Rebecca Leclair said she still hears people talk about that game. In fact, when Leclair’s alma mater, McQuaid High School, honored him before a state semifinal game Nov. 9, she said a man sat down next to her and talked about that play. He said he’d never forget watching her son check on the player whose face he’d just hit with a volleyball.
The man was the other team’s coach.
“I love hearing those stories,” Rebecca Leclair said.
When Leclair was 13, he met Collin Mahan. Mahan and Leclair — who Rebecca Leclair and Hulse affectionately dubbed “Frick” and “Frack” — became best friends and wound up playing together at Loyola. Even though they played for rival high schools, they remained close through their club team.
Mahan, who’s currently playing professional volleyball in the Netherlands, shared many stories about his best friend. He specifically mentioned Leclair’s inability to remember people’s names — a shortcoming Leclair came to embrace. For about three years in high school, Leclair called Mahan’s dog “Maggie” when her name was actually “Abby,” he recalled.
“He was quite bad [with] names,” Mahan said in a text message. “Walking through Loyola hallways and people would say hi to him and he would say hi back with a name very confidently, then turn to me and go, ‘That’s definitely not his name, but I went with it.’”
Former Loyola assistant coach Kris Berzins, a Loyola alumnus, recruited Leclair to play for a USA Volleyball team when Leclair was 15. Berzins, who’s now the boys’ program director at Division I Volleyball Club, left Loyola before Leclair’s senior year, but the two remained close through a volleyball camp Berzins helped run.
Berzins said Leclair worked with sixth, seventh and eighth graders to help teach them the basics of volleyball. When Leclair stepped onto the court, he managed to get them together and help them learn the game.
“During … his senior year, he was working at the junior’s club that I’m now currently still employed at [and] running,” Berzins said. “He was a middle school program coach. … All of those guys, they can be a little rambunctious, that young group that’s trying to learn … and Dane just had an incredible way of inspiring young players.”
Off the court, Leclair could take control of a room. His eccentric wardrobe, which was highlighted by bright colors, and his “outward personality” made him stand out wherever he went.
His style evolved during his time at Loyola. He sometimes wore a fur coat when he announced women’s volleyball games. When someone gave him a hard time about it, he showed up in a three-piece suit. His bright red suit made an appearance at “The Goldies,” the Loyola athletics department’s end-of-the-year celebration.
Sometimes, Leclair didn’t know what color clothes he was wearing. That’s because he was colorblind — which is why Rebecca Leclair said her son wasn’t worried about clashing his colors.
“If he came up with an outfit that didn’t match … he was like, ‘What do I care? I’m colorblind,’” Rebecca Leclair said.
“He had to do it well,” Paul Leclair said. “In other words, he had to be all in.”
After graduating as an honors student from Loyola in May, Leclair decided to go into coaching, which is how he ended up at Nebraska. Paul Leclair said he and his wife supported their son no matter what he decided to do — whether it be playing volleyball or coaching volleyball. But there was one caveat.
After he was hired at Nebraska, Leclair worked a summer camp with high school teams. Some players from those teams reached out to the Leclairs after their son’s passing to talk about the impact he had on them.
A few days before Leclair died, the coaches at Louisburg High School in Kansas — one of the teams from the camp — asked him to FaceTime. They wanted him to give a motivational speech before their first state tournament game because he connected with them so much during the camp.
Paul Leclair said his son was “proud” to have been asked to call the team.
“One of the things Dane had said to me was, ‘When I’m coaching anybody, I want them to enjoy the game so that they want to keep playing after [I’m] done with them,’” Paul Leclair said. “At least this summer, he did just that.”
Leclair’s impact during his short time in Nebraska wasn’t just noticed in volleyball. Rebecca Leclair said she received a note from a man who met her son at a gas station within the last few months. The man was a few dollars short, and Leclair handed him a $5 bill to help him pay for his gas.
When the man asked to pay him back, Leclair said no. The two talked for a bit and joked about Nebraska football.
“Those are those lovely stories that we [didn’t] know,” Rebecca Leclair said more than two weeks after her son’s death. “And people are reaching out to us still. We’re still getting flowers. Our neighbors bring meals every day.”
Loyola has made efforts to remember Leclair since his death. The women’s volleyball team wears patches with his No. 4 on their sleeves. The university held a memorial service for him on campus. Some coaches and players flew to New York for his funeral.
With the 2020 men’s volleyball season around the corner, Hulse said one first-year player was set to wear a No. 4 jersey this year. After Leclair passed, the player switched numbers without being asked — and Hulse said he doesn’t think anyone will wear that number again.