All Eyes on Harrison
|PHOTO: JJ QUENAULT/NEW JERSEY PRIDE
He has reached the pinnacle of college lacrosse and earned the sport’s top honors. So what does the future hold for Kyle Harrison ’05? Not enough hours in the day, for starters.
Lacrosse sensation Kyle Harrison is lounging on a mustard-yellow couch in the family room of his childhood home. A cell phone and water bottle within easy reach, Harrison is momentarily distracted from conversation with a visitor by a commercial for the season premiere of MTV’s Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County. His mouth drops open and hangs there as he catches a titillating preview of the soap opera-like but unscripted antics of a group of rich and pretty teens in southern California.
“I’m a huge Laguna Beach fan,” he admits, unable to tear his gaze from the TV.
This serves as a useful reminder that Harrison is 22. This and his appearance are your best clues, because his poise, maturity, and success all belie his youth.
On this summer day a few weeks after graduation, months before he will begin work as a sales representative and the new face of Warrior Lacrosse, Harrison is enjoying a rare morning at home in Baltimore. Since late May, when he and his team brought the NCAA men’s lacrosse championship back to Hopkins for the first time in 18 years, his schedule has been crammed: an all-star game, four-day tryouts for the national team, the Major League Lacrosse (MLL) draft, his first professional games (including his first loss in a very long time), endless press interviews, and appearances at sports camps in Baltimore, Boston, and beyond.
“It’s what I’ve been working for, so I can’t complain,” Harrison says of his hectic schedule. “I’d just like to be home a little more.”
It has been such a whirlwind he barely had time to let sink in the fact that he’d just graduated from college, he told his mom, Wanda.
Harrison, a four-year starter on the Hopkins lacrosse team who twice earned First Team All-America honors, was a two-time recipient of the McLaughlin Award as the nation’s top midfielder. This year, following the team’s undefeated season and national championship, Harrison won both the Lt. Raymond J. Enners Award (for the nation’s top player) and the prestigious Tewaaraton Trophy, the sport’s equivalent of college football’s Heisman.
He was the top pick in the MLL draft, putting him in a red uniform for the New Jersey Pride. Next summer, he’ll be among the 23 players representing the United States in the International Lacrosse Federation World Championships in Ontario.
His coaches, including head coach Dave Pietramala and associate head coach Seth Tierney, have no trouble speaking about Harrison’s athletic prowess, but they really get going when they talk about his character. Both say he’s utterly devoid of selfishness, a sensitive guy who listens more than he talks and works hard to make others—family, friends, his girlfriend, teammates, autograph-seekers, reporters—happy.
“Kyle is a terrible lacrosse player compared to what kind of person he is,” Tierney says. “Last year, he was the best lacrosse player in the country, so that tells you what kind of person he is.”
Pietramala says it’s a special treat for a coach when “your best player is your hardest worker, your best leader, and your most humble person.” Both of them fathers, Pietramala and Tierney say they’ll consider themselves lucky if their sons turn out anything like Harrison.
Harrison worked hard for his success in lacrosse. A three-sport star at the Friends School of Baltimore, his first love was basketball, and it wasn’t until his senior year that he started getting serious about lacrosse. The summer before, Pietramala and Tierney saw Harrison play at a local lacrosse camp, where they recognized him as a talented and unselfish athlete who wasn’t great at their sport—yet.
“I thought if he was a good person and a hard worker, he could become a great lacrosse player,” Pietramala says.
“I guess they saw something in me that I didn’t know was there,” says Harrison, who did work hard (to improve his shooting, especially), and, of course, did become great. He started the first game of his freshman year at Hopkins, took and won the first face-off, and scored the first of his 85 career goals a mere 1:32 into the game.
He stepped into a true leadership role on the team after its loss to Syracuse in the Final Four in 2004, when he sent a now-famous e-mail to his teammates and coaches expressing disappointment and anger over the team’s performance—most notably, his own.
“I think the respect he garnered from that e-mail played a big part in our team’s success this past year,” Pietramala says. “For him to say that he was so mad at himself and that he could’ve done more—when he was a First Team All-American—really opened him up to his teammates.”
Harrison describes the summer that followed as “hell” and says he was furious at the world for his team’s failure to come through when it counted. Perhaps what mattered most to him was this: “All those seniors didn’t get to win a championship because we didn’t play well.”
The attitude inherent in the statement is one of the reasons Harrison is a role model for aspiring athletes and young people in general. “It’s cool that kids look up to me,” he says. “I like being a role model.”
The responsibility the role carries doesn’t worry him or his parents. “Kyle is very anchored in his morals, and I think that’s been helpful for him,” says mom Wanda, a social worker who, along with his father, Sinai Hospital surgeon Miles Harrison, Jr., has instilled in him a clear sense of right and wrong.
“In high school, his crowd was the crowd that didn’t drink, and other kids migrated to that,” she says. “He and Benson [Erwin ’05, a Hopkins teammate and Harrison’s best friend] were role models. They made it okay to follow the rules.”
Being in the public eye has brought Harrison some surreal moments of late, like when his mail carrier delivered an issue of Inside Lacrosse magazine with him on the cover, chuckling, “‘Hey, is this you?’”—and a dinner out one night recently, when a girl approached his table and asked him to autograph her stomach. And then there was the time his mom read a sexually explicit letter from one of his fans. “That was the only one I saw like that,” says Wanda, thankfully. “But he said there were others.”
Harrison’s life is likely to be busier than ever this fall, as he joins Warrior Lacrosse—one of the leading manufacturers of lacrosse equipment and the exclusive supplier to the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams and the MLL. He’ll juggle sales representative responsibilities and photo shoots, eventually develop his own line of sports clothing, and sponsor clinics for young players. He’ll stay put in Baltimore for a while, in between MLL games he’ll play on the weekends and practices for next year’s world championships, that is.
Oh, and there’s at least one more public role ahead for Harrison: Miles Harrison’s experience on the lacrosse field, which he chronicled in Ten Bears—the story of the founding of a Division I team at historically black Morgan State University in the early 1970s—is being developed by Warner Brothers into a motion picture. Kyle Harrison will play his father in the movie’s lacrosse action scenes.
Coach Tierney, who, at Harrison’s request, helped him wade through a sea of job inquiries this summer, predicts great things for him, of course, and he imagines Harrison will continue to be somewhat oblivious to his status and impact on the game of lacrosse.
“Kyle doesn’t know this, but people mention his name every day in California and all these other states that are now playing lacrosse. People are going to be watching him,” Tierney says. “He’s the guy right now.”
—Angela Paik Schaeffer