Athlete Harrison has game for Jays

Johns Hopkins: Turning his raw skills into a polished product, the junior grows into a leader.

Ncaa Lacrosse Final Four

May 25, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

The dodge is so quick, so fluid, that Johns Hopkins offensive coordinator Seth Tierney swears that junior midfielder Kyle Harrison is gliding, not running.

Then, Harrison will stop and pivot, unveil a dizzying spin move or go airborne to gain a shooting angle on a defender.

There was a time when defenses could at least slow him by forcing him to his left hand, but Harrison has punished that strategy enough this season to prompt opposing coaches to come up with another plan.

"When we're playing him in practice, he's beating our defense, beating our slides and I'm getting pretty upset," said Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala. "Sometimes, I just have to take a step back and say, `Wow, he's not an easy guy to defend.' Now I see why everybody else has so many problems with him. He's as good an athlete as I've ever coached, but he's become a hell of a lacrosse player, too."

When he was a freshman, Harrison was grouped with Virginia attackman John Christmas, both initially trumpeted for being black players flourishing in a traditionally white game.

By Harrison's sophomore year, some were calling him, to his chagrin, the best athlete in college lacrosse.

Only now, only after being selected for the second year in a row as a finalist for the Tewaaraton Trophy, college lacrosse's top individual honor, only after helping lead the Blue Jays to their third straight final four, is Harrison being recognized simply as one of the best players in college lacrosse.

Now, all Harrison has to do is accept that responsibility.

"There are still times that I look at myself as a basketball player, but over the year, I have definitely evolved into more of lacrosse player, which is kind of awkward," said Harrison, a three-sport standout at Friends recruited by some Division I basketball programs.

"Lacrosse was the sport I played the least. I just kind of did it because of my father [Miles Harrison, a former Morgan State lacrosse player]. It's real strange how this has all turned out."

Harrison, 21, is both easygoing and outgoing, wears an almost permanent smile and looks as comfortable dealing with the media the writing seminars major may someday join as he is running by a defender.

But it's obvious that he would prefer to talk about anything but himself.

Suggest that he is the current face of the most storied lacrosse program in the country and he winces, but Harrison's spot on the cover of Hopkins' media guide and the throng of No. 18 jerseys in the stands at Homewood Field on game days seem to tell the story.

"To be honest, I don't know if he is comfortable with his success yet," Pietramala said of his 6-foot, 180-pound junior, who has 31 points and has won 58 percent of his faceoffs. "He's a guy that looks at his teammates and thinks, `Wow, they're great.' He marvels at the other guys rather than realizing that they are always looking at some of the stuff he does."

Hopkins assistant Tierney remembered the look in Harrison's eyes at last year's Tewaaraton Trophy presentation, as Harrison stood alongside senior teammate Adam Doneger, Duke senior midfielder Kevin Cassese, Syracuse junior attackman Michael Powell and Virginia senior midfielder Chris Rotelli, the eventual winner.

"I'm not sure he thought he belonged there," Tierney said. "He's one of those guys. He just doesn't know it yet. It's starting to come. There have been times this year where he's really taken over."

Finding `extra gear'

Harrison scored the game-winning goal to beat Duke, 6-5, and then a couple of weeks later, with the Jays trailing No. 2 Navy by two late, he dodged right, left the ground and ripped a shot into a slight opening over Navy goalie Matt Russell's right shoulder in a 10-9 overtime win.

"There just aren't many players like him. He's just got some really special skills," Hopkins junior defender Tom Garvey said. "When things get tough, he's got that extra gear that he'll get into, and when he's in that mind-set he's impossible to stop."

Teammates say Harrison, who was dunking a basketball as a high school freshman, does something at almost every practice that they haven't seen before. Still, they marvel more at his unselfishness, his willingness to step back to let a teammate shine. The team's prime faceoff man the past two seasons, Harrison has happily accepted a reduced role with the emergence of Lou Braun and Greg Peyser.

"He's as talented a player as I've ever played with, but at the same time, he's also the most selfless player I've ever met," said junior midfielder Matt Rewkowski, who transferred to Hopkins from Duke and said Harrison was one of the first Blue Jays to welcome him. "Numbers really don't tell the whole story with him. He obviously draws a lot of attention, and I think me and Kevin [Boland] benefit from some of the things he can do."

Pietramala and Tierney, who watched Harrison defer to older teammates, such as Doneger or Bobby Benson, in the two previous years, still wonder whether Harrison has any idea how good he can be.

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