LIVING THE DREAMFeatures | 3/9/2012 12:51:38 PM | Chris Ryndak
Lacrosse has always seemed to come easy for Jeremy Thompson. While the Buffalo Bandits rookie transition player has had to work hard to make it as a professional lacrosse player, he’s had to work even harder to make it through school and eventually earn a college degree.
Thompson, a native of the Onondaga Nation, hopes that his story of perseverance can be used to inspire children of the Six Nations Confederacy to not give up despite any challenges they may face. He’s been able to stay in the region for his entire playing career thus far and he believes that this is where he’s meant to be.
“I’ve come to realize that in the person I’ve become and all the things I have behind me, that I’m a role model to a lot of the Native kids around this area,” he said. “I wasn’t good in school, I didn’t know the English language and all that. I used lacrosse to help me out and get my education. It got me to where I am now and that’s what I’m showing the kids.”
Growing up in North Country in Akwesasne, Ont., Thompson attended a Mohawk language immersion school and spoke the Mohawk language. He didn’t learn English or how to read and write until his family moved to the Syracuse area and he enrolled in a public school when he was in seventh grade.
He says he struggled in school and that sidetracked his goal of playing lacrosse at Syracuse University right after his graduation from high school. He took an alternative route and spent two years at Onondaga Community College, but in the big picture he believes that it all worked out. He won two national titles at OCC – going 31-0 over two seasons – and he believes that his time there served as a great stepping-stone in terms of his education.
He transferred to Syracuse in 2009 and majored in Communication and Rhetorical Studies, a program that focuses on aspects of human communication and public speaking. He said that in college, he would have to put in three times as much time in his schoolwork to make sure he succeeded.
“I can only look at myself and say that I didn’t give up. I just kept pushing through it no matter how hard it was,” he said.
Thompson, one of five children, grew up with the game of lacrosse from a young age. His father Jerome played for the Iroquois Nationals, so since the age of 3, Thompson could be found with his three younger brothers holding a lacrosse stick. He believes that the time he’s spent with his family has not only helped his maturation as a lacrosse player, but as a person as well.
“That’s the best thing a parent can give them is their time and I think my parents did that for us,” Thompson said. “I think it’s showed through our lacrosse development and life in general. I’m grateful for where I’m at and what I have. Everything’s been becoming a dream come true and actually right now, I try and take every piece of it.”
While at Syracuse, Thompson felt pressure in being a part of a powerhouse program with a rich history. Since the NCAA began holding a tournament to decide their national champion in 1971, the Orange has won 10 titles, more than any other school.
“There was always a team out there that would always be happy to take us down or beat up on us or try and get that win. That would make their season,” he explained. “So being there, every day, it was almost like we were on a pedestal where we had to maintain this legacy.”
Although he didn’t win a national title while at Syracuse (“They come and go. You win some, you lose win,” he says), he did amass 33 goals and 53 points in 32 games and earned All-America honors in both of his seasons there.
When he finished up at Syracuse, he looked to begin his professional lacrosse career. He earned a sponsorship deal in the fall and the Bandits selected him with their first pick (ninth overall) in the NLL Entry Draft in September. The ability to play lacrosse professionally year-round is the culmination of years of work.
In addition to his family, Thompson says that his teammates, especially 12-year veteran Tracey Kelusky, have been very helpful as he adapts to life in the NLL.
“T.K. has been helping me out a lot mentally and taking a role,” Thompson said. “He’s been a great mentor and leader for me.”
So far this season, Thompson’s appeared in five of the Bandits’ seven games and has registered two assists and collected 31 loose balls. He’s been used in the face off circle as well, winning 51.5 percent of his draws. Back at Syracuse, he was one of their key face-off men and said he made a name for himself taking face offs and then jumping into the offensive zone right away. This year, he’s shared those duties with Brandon Francis and Jay Thorimbert.
One thing he says he’s noticed is that the players in the NLL are faster, bigger, stronger and smarter than most of the competition he’s faced in the past.
Since the Bandits want to use him in a transition and defensive role, Thompson has focused on improving his game in his own end. He’s been used to taking the ball up and playing offense the last few years so refocusing on defense this season has been a big adjustment for him.
He is, however, still looking to drop in his first career goal.
“If I get a chance, if it’s a two-on-one or a three-on-two, if I have the shot, I’m going to start putting my mind at it and know that I can score,” he said. “I’d been playing a lot of offense a few years back and I know I can score, so I just have to put it in my head that if I have the chance to take it.”
And as with his schooling, the emphasis on hard work is not lost on Thompson when it comes to lacrosse.
“I’m trying to just go out there and play 100 percent, just give it all,” he said. “If, after every game, I’m tired [the next day] then that usually tells me that I gave it all I had or whatever I could. Just hopefully everything falls into play with the goals, the offense [and] putting some goals up.”