To get a sense of how much Albany senior attackman Lyle Thompson has affected college lacrosse, just listen to how Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala answered a question about whether Thompson is the face of the sport.
"When I go home and I see my kids playing and some of their friends out there are saying, 'I'm Lyle Thompson,'" Pietramala said, "Yeah, I would say so."
There are more examples of Thompson's influence. At the FIL World Championship in Denver this past summer, the hotel housing the Iroquois national team became tournament central as youth and adults sought autographs and pictures with Thompson and his three brothers.
When the bus carrying the Albany team to an NCAA tournament quarterfinal meeting with Notre Dame in May stopped outside of Hofstra's James Shuart Stadium, fans mobbed the bus.
Not many have mastered the three-foot braids peeking out from under Thompson's helmet, but youth and high school players are continuing to try to replicate Thompson's one-handed whip shot, behind-the-back passing and other stick skills.
That's how deep an imprint Thompson has made on lacrosse. He's the reigning co- Tewaaraton Award winner, set the NCAA single-season scoring record with 128 points and matched the single-season mark with 77 assists and has become the player fans admire, opponents worry about and children emulate.
Some are saying that Thompson will join Gary and Paul Gait and Casey, Ryan and Mike Powell as the greatest players in lacrosse history. Thompson is honored by the inclusion, but is quick to credit his college coach, Scott Marr.
"It makes me think of where I am and why I'm here," Thompson said. "When I think of that, I think of Coach Marr and the people who have influenced me a lot. I'm just thankful for those people, especially Coach Marr. Right from when I was a freshman, he's given me the confidence to play at the highest level. When I was a freshman, he was putting the ball in my stick in overtime. So, I think that took me a long way, and it's made me a better player today. To be compared with people like that, it's an honor, and I hope I can make an impact on the game as much as they did."
That legacy is what concerns Thompson the most. He takes delight in watching players at lacrosse camps that he attended attempt his shots and passes, but he also stressed the need to practice those skills at home.
"I'm not going to tell a kid not to do it," Thompson said. "But I'll encourage him to practice it more on his own time. That's one thing I always tell the kids, that more than half of the practice you do should be done at home. Not in a game and not even at practice. Do it in your backyard."
Thompson, who hails from Onondaga Nation in upstate New York, also wants to make sure people understand how lacrosse is rooted in Native American history and is accessible to all. Thompson said his greatest hope is that lacrosse will find its ways to reservations and inner cities and give hope to undiscovered athletes there.
"Just going around and doing camps, I see kids, they don't even know that lacrosse is a Native American sport, stuff like that," he said. "A lot of people view lacrosse as a rich, white sport. But I think the more people know about me, my brothers, what we did at Albany, they're learning that it's a Native American sport, and they're learning to look at it in a different way and play it in a different way."
Denver coach Bill Tierney, who has two Native American players in sophomore attackman Zach Miller and freshman midfielder Brendan Bomberry on his roster, said Thompson is a visible reminder of the sport's past.
"There have been Native American players for a long, long time in lacrosse. I played in 1973 at Cortland, and I remember Syracuse having some guys," Tierney said. "I think what he's done with the Tewaaraton and his brothers and his family is, he's validated the greatness of it. And what I love about it is, these guys are graduating, and when they talk, they're talking about their families and their culture. To me, it's kind of brought lacrosse back full circle. We're going back to our roots through a young man who is just so talented and so dynamic that it's kind of re-awakened us to something that has been there for a long, long time."
With the graduation of older brother Miles and cousin Ty, Lyle Thompson might not duplicate last season's record-setting numbers. But Marr, the Albany coach, pointed out that freshman attackman Connor Fields is developing chemistry with Thompson and that the team has added two players Thompson grew up with in redshirt sophomore attackman Seth Oakes and redshirt sophomore midfielder Ky Tarbell.
And Marr noted that Thompson doesn't care about statistics.
"I don't think he looks at it that way," Marr said. "I think he looks at it as going out and playing for the creator and playing every day, every practice and enjoying the game and putting forth his best effort. I don't think he looks at it as if he's carrying this burden on his back. I think he enjoys it, and I think he enjoys where he is right now in his game and in his career."