HAMPTON, VA. — Lloyd Carter is living someone else's dream while making history anew.
Carter is the men's lacrosse coach at Hampton, and his Pirates are the first team at a historically black college or university to play at the Division I level.
The last such team to play big-time college lacrosse was Morgan State, which dropped the sport in 1981. Carter was an attackman on that team, one of several players from West Baltimore. Before the season ended, the Bears had beaten Notre Dame, Villanova, Michigan State and Georgetown during a five-day span.
From the day Morgan formed its team in 1970 until its last day, the Bears were one of the best programs in the country, regardless of color. Carter is dreaming big again.
"These guys, they don't see it yet," said Carter, 57, a retired Baltimore fire chief and officer with the Maryland Army National Guard. "The reason I see it is because I was there. ... When I got older, I had a better appreciation of history. And that's what I am selling these guys now. This is special because we are part of history again."
It's tough building a Division I program, even tougher at a predominantly black school where most of his players never picked up a stick until they became full-time students. Of the 20 players on the roster, four or five, according to Carter, are actually good. The Pirates did have 25 players, but five quit after Hampton moved up to Division I rather than playing another season of club ball.
As of last week, Carter was operating out of a dorm room in James Hall, in an office without windows. The Pirates have just one assistant coach but recently received confirmation of more funding from athletic director Eugene Marshall and university president Dr. William Harvey.
"Slowly but surely, we're going to move this program along," Marshall said. "We want to get to the point where we are competitive, become affiliated with a conference, win the conference championship and compete for a [national] championship. It takes time, but we're glad to be one of the 70 elite lacrosse programs in the country."
Hampton's beginning sounds much like Georgetown's before Dave Urick became the coach in 1990 and turned the Hoyas into a national power. Back then, Urick had no full-time coaches and he operated out of a tiny office with no windows. When it snowed, his team had to practice late at night in the student fieldhouse.
Hampton's program is the vision of former student Michael Crawford, who died from an undiagnosed enlarged heart and cardiac arrest on Dec. 28, 2010. Crawford came up with the idea of starting a club program at Hampton.
After his death, his mother, Verina Crawford, continued his drive to start a club team. She eventually found Carter's name online and sought his advice.
Carter was still working in the Baltimore Fire Department and in the Army reserves. He was also coaching lacrosse at Northwestern High and, along with Anthony Ryan, heading up BlaxLax, a club team in Baltimore focused on developing skills and exposure for young, black lacrosse players.
"She wanted to continue her son's dream, and I guess she just Googled 'black lacrosse' and my name came up," Carter said. "If you ever met Mrs. Crawford, she is a very powerful person even on the phone, so in about 10 minutes she was in tears, I am in tears and she tells me she doesn't know what to do.
"I asked her if she believed in God, and she said yes, and I said 'God had you call the right person,' and from then on I've been down here, and she actually relocated from Brooklyn, N.Y., to live in Newport News, her and her husband, to help start the club team."
"I picked up where my late son Michael left off and was happy to be a part of that," Crawford said. "Did he envision Hampton as a lacrosse team instead of being club? I think so, long term, but not initially. I am delighted, happy and it is a priviledge to see what was supposed to be a club team in the Tidewater League become a Division I lacrosse team.
"I am still in awe, in a four or five-year time frame, that a dream will become a reality with the inaugural game. I will not be able to be with the team Saturday, but I will always be with them in spirit."
For nearly three months during lacrosse season the past two years, Carter left Baltimore on Friday mornings and drove four hours to Hampton to coach the club team. The commitment was one of the main reasons Hampton officials hired him once they finalized plans to add lacrosse and women's soccer as NCAA sports last May.
"We're looking to draw the best and brightest students, academically as well as athletically," Marshall said. "It helps diversify the student body, and we want to be able to recruit nationally as well as within the Hampton Roads community.
"With Coach Carter, he had already showed his excitement and passion for the game as well as the ability to lead and be a role model."
Carter had built programs before, first at Northwestern and later the club teams at Morgan and Hampton. He is old-school, with a strong work ethic. He learned from high school coaching legends Obie Barnes (Forest Park) and Pete Pompey (Edmondson).
On a shelf in Carter's office is a Bible open to passages about overcoming fear, and every Pirates practice ends with the Lord's Prayer. Carter works during the day at nearby Thomas Nelson Community College before holding practice at night.
As for this season, commitment and fundamentals might be the most important things he teaches. The Pirates aren't used to the night practices, weight training and film sessions.
"Think about it. Guys came here for academics and, oh, by the way, they had a club lacrosse team," Carter said. "They thought, 'I'll go out, pick up my stick, run around on the weekends and drink some beer.'
"That has changed now and the spotlight was too much for some of them, which is why some left. We all have fear, and that's OK. These are the guys that want to be here, and we can build around them."
Carter has scoured the student union and lecture halls looking for players. Every rock has been overturned. He even found one of his three captains, senior midfielder Jeremy Triplett, in a strange way.
Triplett, from Chicago, started playing lacrosse after finding a long pole on his bed.
"I couldn't do anything immediately," Triplett said. "It was like a baby learning how to walk. I brought some friends with me, and Coach told me if I put some energy into it I could be good at it. Now I'm a captain."
The Pirates have other good players such as junior long-stick midfielder Alex Sales, midfielders Alex Hudson and Julian Edwards, and sophomore attackmen Brock Robinson and Kendall Sapp.
Sapp is the only white player on the team, but he might have the best nickname.
"It's 'ADL' for All Day Long. 'Cause when he is right ... well, we just have to find more ways to get him the ball," said Carter, laughing.
The team's 10-game schedule isn't overwhelming. There is no Johns Hopkins or Maryland to be played, only teams such as Richmond, William & Mary and several club teams, including Morgan and Morehouse.
But what really has Carter buzzing is the reception he has received from recruits. He plans on getting two of the sport's greatest and best-known African-American players, Kyle Harrison and Chazz Woodson, involved in Hampton's recruiting.
"From the publicity we're getting and that fact that we are a HBCU, we're getting a lot of interest," Carter said. "I've already gotten a commitment from a player in Texas and Ohio. I'm getting emails from kids in Virginia, Minnesota, Georgia, so it's exciting."
Those close to Carter say it is only a matter of time before he builds a strong program. He'll get some of those kids out of the Baltimore public school system and turn them into good players, much like Morgan did in the old days.
"He is a good man who makes good decisions. He has great character," said Ryan, a former high school and college teammate of Carter's who coaches at City.
The major recruiting weapon appears to be working.
"I'm really enjoying the whole experience," said Edwards, a freshman who was recruited by High Point and several Division II schools. "I could have gone somewhere else to play, but I keep telling the coach that I'm blessed. There is an opportunity to make history here, a chance for us to show that African-Americans can play this game."