Ty Thompson’s Journey to Professional Lacrosse

Ty Thompson scores goals that strain the imagination and bend the laws of motion.

“I wish I had the skill set he brings,” Chrome LC attackman Jordan Wolf says. “It’s cool to watch.”

Consider one goal from Thompson’s senior year at the University at Albany. April 22, 2014. The Great Danes lead Sienna 9-7. There’s two minutes left in the first half. Thompson catches a feed about five yards from the crease. His momentum carries him towards the alley. He pauses for a moment as if to compute all the variables and contemplate what he’s about to attempt. With his right hand, he slings his stick behind his back around ankle level. The shot bounces and pings the upper-right corner.

“Easily the best goal I’ve ever scored,” Thompson, who is a lefty, recalled recently.

You could watch the sequence a dozen times in slow motion and still not grasp the poise, flexibility, and creativity required to pull it off. Thompson, 27, plays with an awareness you can’t teach. The video should contain a disclaimer: “don’t try this at home.”

Thompson never heeded that advice. While his feats on the field often look improvised, they’re anything but.

“I used to practice that all the time in the yard,” he says of the one-handed behind-the-back shot that was inspired by John Grant Jr. Growing up in Akwesasne, New York, on the Mohawk Reservation the Thompson family yard was a laboratory for Ty to experiment and refine his craft. When he wasn’t organizing impromptu 3-on-3 games amongst his cousins and neighbors, you’d likely find him practicing shots you’d never imagine at all hours with Trigger, one of the family’s Black Labrador retrievers, serving as his ball caddy.

“I’ve never seen anyone so content to stand in front of a net and shoot all day,” Thompson’s mom, Tisha, says.

While Thompson has developed a reputation for making the impossible look effortless, the path wasn’t always seamless. When you ask him whether he thinks he’s been overshadowed, he replies: “Oh yeah, easily. I definitely feel like my whole career I’ve been getting shorted.” There was the time last summer when he was snubbed from the All-Star game. Or the limited opportunities he got to prove himself early on in his professional career. He played in one game his rookie season. But the one that still sticks with him is when didn’t make the final roster of the Iroquois National U-19 team in 2012.

“It was devastating for him,” Tisha Thompson says. “But I think it had to happen.”

In moments of doubt, Thompson thinks about his mom, who saved every recruiting letter and formed club teams so her oldest son could play in tournaments. “Without her I wouldn’t have been getting recruited in the first place,” Thompson says. He thinks about his dad, Kristian, who would drive him everywhere without complaint. He his thinks about sister, Kiera, and his brothers, Thomas and Dallan. And, of course, he thinks about his grandparents Randall and Rosalie Jacobs. Randall Jacobs had such a fervent love for lacrosse, he took Rosalie to a game on their wedding night in May of 1981. Rosalie, 68, traveled all the way to Dallas last summer to watch Thompson play

“He was the whole reason I got into lacrosse,” Thompson says of Randall “Man” Jacobs, who was an athletic trainer for more than 30 years for several local box lacrosse teams including the Akwesasne Warriors. Jacobs was inducted into the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2013 as a “Builder” for his contributions to the sport. He was also Thompson’s first trainer. Thompson remembers running around their neighborhood in Racquette Point, known as the Horseshoe, while Jacobs drove his Ford F-150 Harley Davidson Edition close by. “Run with your stick in your hands, because that’s how you have to run in a game,” Jacobs would instruct him. When Thompson wasn’t honing accuracy on the brick wall next to his grandparents’ house, Jacobs would take him to Rochester Knighthawks games or they’d nag each other about their NFL rooting interests. Thompson was a big Donovan McNabb fan so he adopted the Eagles as his team, while Jacobs always pulled for the New York Jets. He even built a lacrosse box, that doubled as a hockey rink in the winter, on the side of the Thompson’s house so Ty could continue his development.

But Jacobs wasn’t able to witness Thompson’s 154 goals at Albany or his ascension up the professional ranks into one of the most consistent scorers the game has ever seen. He died of a heart attack on December 21, 2011. He was 59.

“I play in his honor now and carry him with me,” Thompson, whose Mohawk name, Teiotekane, means “He Carries the Fire,” says of his grandfather.

Thompson still holds onto that motivation every day when he trains. Two years ago he sought out Tyler Touchette, the owner of Caveman Strong in Cornwall, Ontario, and started a workout regimen that focuses on circuit training and agility. A “small” circuit from April 29th included a timed mile, box jumps, jumping rope, squats, deadlifts, pushups, and planks. Thompson says the workouts give him a second wind when he’s battling inside around the crease.

“I’ve been going hard for two months now so I can be in the best possible shape come PLL,” he says.

He’ll often follow the workouts with shooting practice at the Jacobs Center, a local gymnasium that his uncle owns. Thompson has access to the gym whenever he wants. His routine sounds as refreshingly simple as his Instagram account bio that reads: “Catch and Shoot.” He’ll bring a buddy and a dozen balls. He’ll run through game-like situations. Cutting. Quick sticks. Fadeaway shots. Backhands. Thompson will also ask for feeds that are off the mark to extend his catch radius and improve his confidence in tight quarters.

That work was evident last year. Thompson scored 49.3 percent of his shots off of assists--usually from Wolf. You might get tired of hearing announcers call out that connection this summer after the Chrome LC attack duo link up for yet another goal. Still, Thompson isn’t satisfied. Finishing is his job. “From my own expectations I should be able to score every…” he says before catching himself. “Almost every shot I get if it’s within range.”

Thompson showed off his repertoire during the PLL pro day at NBC Sports’ studios in Stamford, Connecticut. “The action shots were probably the coolest part,” he says. “I’m excited to see the production and how it turns out.”

Off the field, Thompson prefers to stay out of the spotlight. While he’s made a name for himself apart from the Thompson Trio at Albany, he’s the last person to boast about his accomplishments. For all the behind-the-back, one-handed, around the world, #SCTop10 worthy plays, in conversation he’s the opposite of excitable. His tone is low-key and measured. He seems incapable of bravado. Though his goals are sometimes ALL CAPS and exclamation points, his demeanor leans toward reserved and understated.

“I have never seen someone so relaxed and calm in every situation whether it is going good or bad for him,” says Chaos LC goalie and Thompson’s former Albany teammate, Blaze Riorden. “Very rarely will you see him spark a lot of emotion. He is so focused on the task at hand.”

When you talk to those who know Thompson best, they use the words “selfless” and “humble” so frequently in reference to him that you lose count. Thompson will even ask his mom to take down Facebook posts if he feels like she’s bragging too much about him.

“I am just focused on my game,” he says. “I don’t really go out of my way to gain popularity.”

“If you look at the stat sheet, that’s where most of Ty’s talking is done,” Riorden adds. “He knows and I know that those numbers speak for themselves.”

Thompson plans to be heard this summer.

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