The Thompson brothers inspired Kaleb Leon Benedict to attend college and play lacrosse.
When Kaleb Benedict was growing up in Onondaga Nation, he idolized the Thompson brothers – all the kids of Onondaga did. Benedict had watched Jeremy excel at Syracuse University and witnessed Miles dazzle at the University of Albany.
In 2011, Benedict was eight years old. He and his family drove a few miles north to watch Miles and Jeremy go head-to-head in a fierce battle between two of the nation’s top NCAA DI lacrosse programs. Watching that game made Benedict fall in love with lacrosse.
Benedict was introduced to lacrosse by his father, Peter Benedict, when he was three. The older Benedict had been drafted in the 1st round (11th overall) in the 2002 NLL Entry Draft. He also happened to be on the same Sr. B Onondaga Redhawks team that won the President’s Cup in 2014. That team had Miles, Jeremy, Jerome “Hiana,” and Lyle on the team.
Over a decade after Kaleb was a spectator of that Syracuse vs. Albany game, which, by the way, was won 18-13 by Jeremey’s Orange, Kaleb was, let’s say, serendipitously drafted by the Georgia Swarm, which whom Lyle, Miles, Jeremy, and Hiana play for. Benedict was so highly-touted that the Swarm took him in the 1st round (19th overall) in the 2023 NLL Entry Draft. Benedict was the first Indigenous player taken in the 2023 draft.
Being drafted to the Swarm to play with his idols was a moment Benedict will never forget. What made it even more special was that he got to share this moment with his son, Kaleb Leon Benedict II, who had just recently turned one.
“I think hard work pays off,” Benedict said. “If you stick to it, your dreams will come true. I never thought this would’ve happened two years ago – it just happened that quick. It’s been a crazy experience, and it hasn’t sunk in yet; it probably won’t until [the first game].”
“Growing up in Onondaga, we always looked up to the Thompsons. It’s surreal to think that I’ll be on the same floor as them, passing, catching, and setting picks. That’s the craziest part, right there, just thinking about that and playing with them on the biggest stage.”
Benedict will be ready to make his NLL Debut on December 9th when the Swarm go up against the Colorado Mammoth. From the moment he was drafted, he knew that he would need to work hard to make a good impression on his talented teammates, of whom around a dozen or so have Indigenous roots.
But that’s not going to be a massive ask of Benedict. He noted that a lot has changed over the last few years to make this NLL dream a reality. In 2018, Benedict was playing Jr. B lacrosse for the Seneca WarChiefs – he won a Founders Cup with them that year. Following that stint, he remained in Jr. B, playing for the Akwesasne Indians (now Akwesasne Thunder). It wasn’t until the GM of the Jr. A Orangeville Northmen’s head coach, Nick Rose, gave Benedict a call expressing great interest in the budding Onondaga star playing for his team that he moved to Jr. A – that was in the late spring/early summer of 2023.
Benedict shined with the Northmen over the 26 games he played for them this past summer. He posted 40 goals and 55 assists for 95 points in the OJLL. That was the 14th-most points in the league in 2023 – in his first Jr. A experience. He was pretty consistent all summer long, but he did have a handful of standout performances, including finding the back of the net a career-high five times against the Six Nations Arrows in one game – he ended that mid-July night with nine points, which was also a career-high.
He credits his coaches in Jr. B, most notably Darris Kilgour of the Akwesasne Thunder and Vaughn Harris of the WarChiefs, for much of his growth and development. It’s definitely helpful to learn from two former NLL talents who have decided to dedicate their time to the next generation of potential professional players.
“Traveling and playing in different places really helped,” Benedict said. “Playing in Seneca for Darris Kilgour, he was one of the best coaches I’ve ever listened to – he knows so much (offense, defense, all-around). When I went up to Akwesasne, Vaughn [Harris] was the coach, and he played a few years in the NLL. So, I’ve had a few good coaches who helped me.”
It has been an unforgettable whirlwind of a time for Benedict over the last few years. He began a new Jr. career, a new pro career, and, most importantly, added a new family member. He wants to show his son what is possible when you work hard and follow your dreams.
Benedict knows that this is a reality of being in the limelight. People are watching to see what you can do. The Indigenous youth are looking up to him now, just as he looked up to the Thompson brothers. Benedict is driven not to disappoint anyone and to make the most of this special and rare opportunity.
“I know there’s a lot of kids looking at me everywhere I go,” Benedict said. “Whenever I’m in the area shooting around, there’s definitely people watching, so that’s pretty cool. I just have to keep working, keep showing them how it works.”
Heading into this year’s training camp, Benedict’s stock was as high as it has ever been. Swarm Head Coach Ed Comeau was very impressed with his effort and his abilities. Unfortunately for the highly-touted prospect, he has had to miss the Swarm’s first three games of the NLL season. He remains on the Inured Reserve List and the team is eager for him to be healthy enough to play. Having said that, they will not Rush the 20-year-old back.
The wait to see Benedict make his debut will be difficult, but when the time comes for him to enter to pros with a clean bill of health, there is a string belief that he will be part of the newest generation of Indigenous stars of the NLL.
No one will be more excited to have this happen then Benedict. It will be a special moment for him and his family. The Thompson brother will be right there to witness the birth and growth of a potential future Onondagan NLL star.
By Adam Levi