Seven hundred people sat silent and still as the greatest college lacrosse coach in the history of the sport filled the room with his unique wisdom. Wearing a fashionable striped blazer and leaning heavily against a traditional Iroquois lacrosse stick, Roy Simmons Jr. at the age of 80, addressed the sold out crowd with his witty sense of humor and signature soft spoken cadence. I stood at the side of the room with my eyes and ears wide open absorbing as much of his speech as I possibly could. We were there to celebrate and honor the incredible 100 year history of the Syracuse Lacrosse program alongside our family, friends and former teammates. I felt so honored to have the opportunity to be there and witness this iconic moment.
I can’t explain the wave of emotions that come over you when you pull a Syracuse Lacrosse jersey over your head and onto your shoulders. It’s an experience that can only be described as otherworldly. You’re immediately flooded with confidence, pride and energy. The blood starts rushing through your body and your legs start to shake with excitement. You get a tingling in your fingers as your mind starts to flash fast paced highlights of hard hits, perfect passes and unimaginable goals behind your eyes. Your eyes narrow and your shoulders rise as you make your way out of the locker room and into the dark tunnel filled with loud chants that could only be described as battle cries. The crowd screams as you and forty fellow warriors start to flood the field with orange and the minute your feet hit the turf your mind goes black, you are no longer in control, you’re an animal at the mercy of the lacrosse gods.
I know that may sound overly romanticized but its the absolute and undeniable truth that only Syracuse Lacrosse players can attest to. I obviously never played a game for storied programs like Johns Hopkins, Princeton, or Virginia so I can’t speak to how that feels or if the emotion is similar. But I do know, however, that the opportunity to represent the fabric of Syracuse Lacrosse is something that changed my life forever and still remains one of the central driving factors as I carry on down my life’s path.
People often ask me if I play lacrosse and I always respond with “no — I play Syracuse lacrosse.”
Syracuse Lacrosse is a style and one that I have always viewed as a whole different genre within the game. Like Barry Gordon did with the creation of Motown and Jim Stewart did with Stax, Roy Simmons Jr. broke down the door and created a brand new brand of lacrosse that completed exploded in 1983. If you watch the 1983 NCAA National Championship game where a talented and gritty Syracuse team rallied to overcome a 12-5 deficit in the third quarter to beat Hopkins 17-16 you will witness the birth of a culture and phenomenon.
The 1983 team had a flair for the dramatic. They played fast, creative and free spirited. The style matched their head coach — the inventor. They outshot their opponents, never held the ball and just ran and ran and ran. They pushed the ball up the field as fast as they could, relied on athleticism and confidence. This new brand of fast paced fun filled lacrosse appealed to the greatest lacrosse players from all over the world and they started to year after year show up on the Syracuse campus to play for Roy Simmons Jr..
By the time the late 80’s hit, Syracuse Lacrosse was on another planet. Winning three straight National Championships and exhausting their opponents game after game. The players played with a confidence and a completely fearless quality that up to this point the lacrosse world had not seen. They were punk rock. Wearing bright orange Chuck Taylor shoes, their goalie in flashy football pants, throwing 30 yard behind-the-back passes, dunking the ball on the back of the cage and winning. No one could stop them and I personally believe that this particular era of Syracuse Lacrosse is stylistically the lifeblood and truly launched the legacy. Simmons Jr. had at this point fine tuned this style and had the right people in the right places. Three in a row was his “proof of concept” in many ways and teams from around the country tried to catch up.
The 90’s saw a continuation of this attitude and approach. Certain types of players and personalities joined the team and completed the puzzle. The defensemen were tough and in-your-face. The offense again was fast and explosive. During the 90’s we saw many of the greatest college lacrosse players ever come and go. And the National Championships kept rolling in. By this time the style on the field carried over into parking lots before and after games. Syracuse fans, family, friends and students started to treat lacrosse games like rock concerts and totally created an atmosphere that supported the program’s values and reinforced that incredible confidence.
This carried over into my years at Syracuse despite Roy Simmons Jr. stepping down from the head coaching role following the 1998 season. Although I never had the chance to play under Coach Simmons I always played for him. This feeling goes for every Syracuse Lacrosse player even to the present day.
The biggest lesson that I’ve learned through conversations with Coach Simmons Jr. and witnessing the creation of his style is the incredible strength in fearlessness. I’m not a coach and don’t like to give anyone advice because I am still learning myself. But I am comfortable enough to say that the most valuable lesson I feel a person could ever learn in life is to be fearless. Fear is paralyzing. It stunts your growth both as a player and a person. I remember seeing a particular game where I watched Paul Gait throw a behind-the-back pass across the crease and over the head of the adjacent attack man. The ball sailed out of bounds and possession changed. I watched Paul run off the field, he wasn’t banging his stick on the ground in anger and none of the coaches said a word to him as he jumped back into the midfield rotation. The very next play Paul ran out of the box and picked up a ball at the midline and immediately threw a 25 yard behind-the-back pass on a rope straight into the stick of a streaking Rodney Dumpson for a goal. That moment says it all in my opinion.
On a human level, as we all go through life, we can’t live in fear of failure or be scared to try new things. If you live scared or you play scared its impossible to reach your full potential. Fear can change you. We only get one run at this thing called a lifetime, so why not explore every single area of it and leave it with experience and a greater understanding of the big picture.
It was an absolute honor to be a Syracuse Lacrosse player and to play a very small part in it’s rich history. The Syracuse bloodline is filled with incredible people, stories, moments, records and memories. I would like to take this time to thank all of those players before me that showed me how to play and how to be. I want you all to know that I played for you and for the continuation of the legacy.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to hear Roy Simmons Jr. speak you know that each word that leaves his lips is intentional and jam packed with lessons and deeper messaging that sometimes requires reflection before they can be fully digested. With his brilliant white hair shining in the spot light, the inventor, the teacher, the leader, the father, the heart, the soul, the artist and the coach left the seven hundred people in attendance with yet another one of his incredible lessons. “I hope you all have an amazing hunger for life. May your lives be filled with blue skies and green lights.”