College lacrosse is synonymous with certain families like the Gaits, the Powells, the Thompsons and the Stanwicks. One could argue that many or all of them pale in comparison to the Morrills.
Three generations of the Morrill family are in the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame — the only family to be so honored — and the fourth is represented by Jackson Morrill, a sophomore attackman who has Yale on the cusp of its first national championship.
Morrill, a Baltimore resident and McDonogh graduate, smiled and shook his head when Bulldogs coach Andy Shay called the Morrill family “royalty,” but conceded that he takes pride in carrying on the family tradition.
“It’s a really good thing,” he said. “It’s something that I probably take for granted a little bit too much with how intelligent my family is with the game and how much they love it.”
Morrill and No. 3 seed Yale (16-3) will tangle with No. 4 seed Duke (16-3) in Monday’s NCAA Division I tournament final at 1 p.m. at Gillette Stadium. The upstart Bulldogs will try to parlay their first trip to the title game against a Blue Devils program that has won four national crowns this decade.
The Morrill legacy in lacrosse is strong. William Kelso Morrill Sr. played at Johns Hopkins from 1925 to 1927, helped the school win United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association titles in 1926 and 1927, and coached the Blue Jays from 1935 to 1946 and in 1950, winning national championships in 1941 and 1950.
William Kelso Morrill, Jr. is one of 21 Johns Hopkins players who earned three first-team All-America honors (1957-1959), and he was a factor in a pair of USILA crowns in 1957 and 1959.
Jackson Morrill’s great grandfather and grandfather are so revered by the Blue Jays that each team’s most improved senior and top attackman are given the 1950 Morrill Award and the William K. Morrill Jr. Award, respectively.
Jackson Morrill’s father, Michael, was a member of the 1985 and 1987 teams that captured NCAA titles, earned the award named after his father in 1987 and 1988, and was a first-team All American in 1988.
Jackson Morrill is no stranger to success of his own. In 2016, he helped McDonogh go 19-1 and capture the school’s first Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association’s A Conference title since 2005. That year, he was named The Baltimore Sun’s All-Metro Player of the Year.
While filling his predecessors’ shoes would seem a gargantuan task, Morrill is unburdened by expectations.
“It really isn’t something that pops in my mind much,” he said. “As much as I know what my family has done, it’s still my dad and grandfather to me. They don’t treat it any different. So it doesn’t make me treat it any different. It’s very easy to not think about it.”
Despite his family’s deep ties to Johns Hopkins, Morrill chose Yale over the Blue Jays, Penn State and Georgetown, where older brother Zeke played attack. The younger Morrill said he was swayed by Shay’s assurance that nothing would be promised to him.
“That was really something that struck me, and I could tell that Coach Shay had this idea that I could see, that this Yale team would eventually grow into something that we have sort of become now a little bit,” he recalled. “When it came to decision time, I came back to Coach challenging me. For me, that was something that I really wanted. I wanted somebody that would push me, and he has certainly done that ever since I got here.”
Shay, who credited Morrill’s parents, Mike and Mary, for giving their son space to make an unbiased decision, noted that the attackman has worked diligently to raise his shooting percentage from .357 last spring to .513 now.
“He’s worked very hard in the weight room,” Shay said. “He does whatever we ask. He’s got an extremely high lacrosse IQ, and he’s a joy to coach. We’re psyched that we stole him away from your area for a little bit.”
Senior attackman and Tewaaraton Award finalist Ben Reeves pointed out that in Morrill’s first week as a freshman, he began teaching his older teammates on the finer aspects of the pick game.
“It was kind of the first thing [where] we realized his lacrosse IQ is so high,” Reeves said. “He’s an absolutely incredible player, and he’s developed so much over the course of the two years. It’s a real honor to play with him. I remember telling Coach Shay that I’m pretty sure he’s the best player on the team right now, and he makes everything happen for us. He’s the quarterback of the offense, basically.”
Morrill shrugged off Reeves’ compliment, calling them “1A and 1B.” But Morrill ranks second on the team in both goals (40) and assists (31). After being limited to one goal on two shots in the Bulldogs’ 14-6 victory over Albany on April 22, Morrill exploded for three goals and five assists in Saturday’s 20-11 thrashing of the Great Danes, leading Albany coach Scott Marr to heap praise on him.
“Jackson Morrill is outstanding,” Marr said. “He went to the goal early. I thought that hurt us. He wasn’t that aggressive the last time we played him.”
Morrill’s parents, brother and sister are in town to attend Monday’s game, and Zeke is flying back from a trip with his fellow Georgetown seniors to join them. His grandparents will watch the game on television.
Morrill has tried his best to keep his blinders on during Yale’s run to this stage of the tournament. But he acknowledged that it would be special to help the team win the NCAA title and join his great grandfather, grandfather and father in conversations about national championships.
“It would be something that I could joke around with my dad,” he said. “I could just mess more with him about it. I think it would be cool. It would be cool for my grandfather to see, but it would be special with these guys.”