Latrell Harris was a late(r) bloomer when it came to learning lacrosse, but with the way the 25-year-old has been playing this season, and all of his professional career for that matter, you’d never know that he didn’t start playing until his pre-teen years.
As is usually the case with young Canadians, if they don’t have a lacrosse stick in their hands when they’re growing up, they’ll be working with a hockey stick. This was the case with Harris during his earliest years in St. Catharines, Ontario.
Harris grew up in an athletic household. His dad played basketball and soccer and was on the track team but didn’t play lacrosse.
When Harris was around 9 or 10 years old, he had already been playing hockey for a few years, but one day, Harris’ Dad’s best friend (who was a lacrosse player) came by the house and suggested that the younger of the Harris’s should consider taking up the sport. Even in those early years, Harris was a little bigger, stronger, and faster than the rest of his peers, so it just made sense for him to try it.
“I had a little bit more size on me than a lot of the other kids growing up my age – I think I hit my growth spurt earlier than I would’ve liked to,” Harris said. “That helped me out with my hitting and running, and I had that extra step. When I would D guys up, obviously, they didn’t quite compare to mine. I kind of just fell in love with [the game] because of the aggression and the speed.”
Skipping ahead less than 10 years from when he first started playing the game, Harris was selected in the 2016 NLL Entry Draft at only 17 years old. 6 months before the draft, Harris hadn’t even really considered tossing his hat into the ring, but when he did, he got quite a few bites. Interestingly enough, of all the teams that reached out to Harris in the run-up to draft day, one of the few teams that didn’t contact him was the team that ended up drafting him: the Toronto Rock.
Harris was joining a Rock team with a couple of guys that were more than double his age – Brodie Merrill and Sandy Chapman were both 35 at the start of Harris’ rookie year – and many others were significantly older than Harris. Being that young and joining a team that had just fallen short of winning an NLL Cup just 2 years before was arduous, but Harris was ready to take in every moment.
“I just wanted to show up at training camp and be a sponge,” Harris said. “The year before, there were a lot of older guys on the floor that had left, but there was still only a handful of young guys, so I just wanted to be a sponge and learn from the [older players] and listen to them.”
It was beneficial to Harris to have those older guys still on the squad. Each of them, from Merrill to Chapman to Jeff Gilbert to Damon Edwards, Harris’ roommate his rookie season, had experienced so much in their professional careers up to that point, so for a budding young defenseman like Harris to be able to pick their brains, it was a dream come true. Working alongside a Toronto Rock Hall of Famer like Chapman was particularly special.
“Sandy Chapman is obviously one of the G.O.A.Ts on defense and is in the Rock Hall of Fame,” Harris said. “He was a quiet guy, but man, he was a good competitor. Any question I had, he had an answer, or he had a good point of view on the question I was asking him about.
”Incredibly, but not so surprisingly, Harris earned himself All-Rookie honors in 2017 – his teammate Tom Schreiber was also named to the All-Rookie team. Harris has been an impressive player every year in the NLL.
In each of the 6 seasons he’s played in, Harris has recorded 20+ caused turnovers and 100+ loose ball recoveries. And this season, not only did Harris surpass both of those marks again, he also set a career-high with 30 points – previously, he had never notched more than 18 points.
Harris took a moment to reflect on how far he’s come as an NLL player. In 2020, Harris missed almost all of the COVID-shortened year because he needed to repair his labrum. Three years later, he’s in the running to win the NLL’s Transition Player of the Year award.
“It wasn’t pretty at first, but I found a way, and now I’m a little bit more of a confident player,” Harris said. “My teammates have trust and confidence in me. Being on a team that is like a family, everyone just wants the best for everyone.”
The Rock have not won an NLL championship since 2011. Since then, and including the season, the Rock have made the playoffs 9 times. They’ve made it to East Semi-Finals twice, been to the East Conference Finals 4 times, and were even in the NLL Finals again in 2015.
Heading into the East Conference Finals, which start on Friday, Harris and the Rock are finally ready to win it all. After losing to the Buffalo Bandits last season in heartbreaking fashion in the win-or-go-home Game 3, it’s time for things to be different.
“We’ve just got to get over this hump,” Harris said. “Whatever it takes to get us past the Eastern Conference Finals, that’s what we’re going to do. We might have a certain strategy or a certain way to win, but, whatever it takes is what we’re going to do.”
If Harris and his teammates were to win the NLL Cup this year, it would take a huge load off of their shoulders. Harris never could’ve imagined being in this position time and time again in the NLL, but he is once again on the verge of making this long-time dream a reality.
By Adam Levi