Hopkins Freshman Shines in the E-Lacrosse Spotlight
By Nelson Coffin
Put Johns Hopkins Coach emeritus Bob Scott among those needing to be convinced last spring that current Blue Jays' rookie midfielder Kyle
Harrison was the real deal.
Scott, winner of seven national titles from 1955 to 1974 who plans to be on hand at his alma mater Saturday for the showdown between top-ranked Syracuse and the second-ranked Blue Jays, just nodded his head when he heard about the middie from nearby Friends School with mach-1 speed and a wicked stick.
After all, it was Hopkins Coach Dave Pietramala who mentioned to
Scott that Harrison was way up on his wish list. And "Petro," Scott knew, isn't someone who would go gaga over just anybody.
Still, there was this nagging doubt that plagued a man like Scott who is not easily given to skepticism.
Only serious history buffs might realize that Friends has produced a bunch of Hall of Fame members, yet is hardly the powerhouse it was prior to the mid-1960s. The Quakers did have a great deal of success in the less competitive MIAA B Conference before it moved up to the A Conference, where storied private school programs such as St. Paul's, Boys' Latin, Gilman and Loyola Blakefield rule the roost. In the past two seasons in the A, the Quakers have won just four times.
Maybe that's why Scott's initial reaction was so tepid.
"When Petro told me he was after a kid at Friends, I just said 'uh-huh,'" Scott recalled. "So I told Petro I'd go watch (Harrison) play."
Seeing was believing.
"I didn't have the slightest idea I'd see what I saw," Scott said.
"His speed and change of direction were amazing. He just has that burst that's tough to stop. I ended up watching him play five times."
Scott came away shaking his head about a 6-foot, 170-pound bolt of lightning who could faceoff, break down an opponent with a blur of a first step and play defense like nobody's business. The gifted African-American youngster was the real deal and then some.
After a game at Loyola in which Harrison and fellow Blue Jay recruit
Benson Erwin had the Quakers in front, 6-4, at the half of an eventual 13-9 setback, Scott was impressed enough to say something to the team.
"Scottie came onto the bus afterwards," said friends assistant coach
Jon Garman. "He asked me if he could to talk to the kids. I don't think he does that very often."
Scott was sold.
And the rest of the collegiate lacrosse world could come to understand the coach's reaction after Harrison's sensational debut against defending Division I champion Princeton earlier this month. All he did was control 11 of 16 draws, score the game's first and last goals and play some nasty defense in the stunning 8-5 Hopkins victory.
Giving away about 50 pounds and a year of college seasoning to
Princeton sophomore Greg Casino did not bother Harrison, one of five freshmen who logged significant amounts of time against the Tigers.
"He gives up some height, bulk and strength," admitted Pietramala.
"But you can see the benefit of athleticism. He can lose the draw and still be able to go get the ball."
Harrison employed his speed to gobble up the draw against Casino, who's no slouch in his own right when it comes to quickness. Once Harrison had the ball, he turned on the jets to create some good looks at the Tiger cage. His first shot stung the net less than two minutes into the encounter.
It was a heady experience, one he handled with equal doses of aplomb and self-deprecation.
"Honestly, I didn't think I had that great of a game," Harrison stated. "My first shot was not a great shot and I don't think I was making very good decisions with the ball."
One decision Pietramala didn't particularly care for was when Harrison roared away from a chasing longstick and whipped in his second goal with 38 seconds left.
However, it was easy to overlook - and benefit from - some of the freshmen enthusiasm Harrison and the rest of the Class of '05 brought to the contest.
"We talk all the time about how we still have three and a half more years together," noted Harrison. "We're all different types of players and we want to contribute in our own way."
What they have done is to invigorate the program. Harrison and Erwin, also an African-American, have added some diversity to the mix.
"Having Benson here with me has been great," said Harrison. "He's been my best friend since the third or fourth grade."
Pietramala almost didn't have a chance to add the pals to a short list of players of African-American descent at a school that owns 42 national championships in 111 years of intercollegiate competition.
North Carolina and Virginia had the inside track for Harrison until
Petro entered the scene.
"Petro's a great guy," said Harrison, who also considered Delaware and Maryland . "He's probably the reason I chose Hopkins."
Harrison won't have to be the Jackie Robinson of lacrosse at Hopkins. Wade Horsey (1963), Joe Carlton ('66-'68), Frank Bond ('71) and Chip Dates ('86-'89) have already blazed that trail. None of them, though, had the upside Harrison has.
Harrison and other current top-notch black players, such as Princeton defender Damien Davis, Maryland middie Nate Watkins, North
Carolina middie Tim Gosier, Virginia attackman Johnny Christmas and others, are making lacrosse history daily. Waiting in the wings are Virginia recruits Newt Gentry (from Mt. St. Joseph in Baltimore) and St. Alban's (D.C.) goalie Harry Alford.
Friends attackman/middie Evan Kay is also attracting notice this spring for the Quakers.
Pietramala sees the sport's evolution as a normal product of growth.
"With the sport spreading like wildfire, that means there's more exposure for all kinds of kids at the youth level," said Pietramala. "So you're going to see all kinds of kids playing [college] lacrosse."
Harrison didn't have far to go for a lax playing role model growing up, seeing as how his dad, Miles, was a standout attackman/faceoff specialist at Morgan State, in the early 1970s and the co-author of an excellent book on that groundbreaking era called "Ten Bears".
When asked about what he learned from his dad, Kyle said simply, "everything." Not that everything Miles, now a faculty member at the Sinai Hospital Surgical Associates, taught Kyle stuck.
Facing off is a different proposition now for Kyle than it was for his dad 30 years ago.
Miles, the first member of the North-South All-Star Game from a predominantly black college, used his strength to outmaneuver opponents: Kyle's reflexes are his best friend and once he has possession, his speed takes over.
"He's just an excellent athlete," said Scott. "I don't want to jinx him, but he has the potential to be one of our all-time greats."
The scary part of the equation is that Harrison has never really focused on just one sport. He also played soccer and basketball at Friends when he wasn't on the lacrosse field putting up fine numbers (69 goals, 24 assists) in a career in which he was often the main focus of rival defenders.
"Of the three sports, lacrosse is the one he's played the least out of season," said Garman about the 12 varsity letter winner.
Harrison was still accomplished enough in lacrosse to earn a coveted slot on the Maryland Bay State Team, a squad of rising juniors who defeated a Long Island all-star squad two summers ago.
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Scouting report publisher Franz Fleishman, of Four Sticks Lacrosse, gave him some accolades and a solid rating, although Harrison did not qualify for the highest praise the publication bestows.
"A talented athlete who should develop into a top collegiate player," Fleishman wrote at the time, an evaluation that may seem a little modest now.
"I just didn't think he'd be the main man," said Fleishman. "I thought Casino would be a better face-off guy. With Kyle, I didn't see facing off as the most important part of his game because he does so many other things."
An ailing Harrison shared faceoff chores with yet another rookie, Lou Braun, in last week's 9-8 victory over Hofstra on Long Island, which left Harrison's success rate on draws "only" at 67% (16 for 24).
Harrison: congratulated by Bill Tierney and with fellow freshman phenom Kyle Barrie
He will be at center stage Saturday again against Syracuse, a team that Hopkins must try to corral by keeping the potent Orange offense from getting the ball as often as it would like.
That Harrison could be a deciding factor in the contest is one of the reasons he chose to be a Jay and why Pietramala wanted him.
"Playing at Homewood, in front of my hometown fans, was just amazing," said Harrison about the season opener. "I can't wait for
Not many rivals are likely to share those happy feelings, once Harrison hones his game to Hall of Famer Pietramala's expectations. "Now that he's a full-time lacrosse player, we think that Kyle can become something special here at Johns Hopkins."