College High School Int'l Pro

Top 10 Lacrosse Legends – Men Who Played The Game

Jason Coffman Salisbury University Lacrosse
Photo Courtesy: Doug Pensinger/ALLSP/GettyImages

I’ve been involved with the sport of lacrosse, at some level, for over 20 years straight.  And in my time, I’ve heard a TON of stories having to do with lax.  Some of them are most likely 99% true, while others are probably pure fabrications.  My interest here isn’t necessarily in the truth, but in the “legend” of these players.  And as we know, legends are usually much more than the truth. And COMPLETELY relative.  A legend to me, may not be a legend to you.

But I think most people can come up with a list of 10 amazing players who they have heard stories about, or seen play in person.  Some lists will only feature recent players, while others will be stacked with names like Turnbull, Lowe, and Brown.  There is no perfect list, but there are a lot of right answers.  So we here we go, my Top 10 Legends of Lacrosse – Player Edition!

10. Jason Coffman

Jason Coffman (Josh Coffman of Cuse’s older brother) played at Salisbury University (then Salisbury State).  But his notoriety comes from scoring a preposterous number of points in college, and doing so while not exactly being a model athlete.  Coffman was a bit of a wide load, strong as an ox, and had great hands.  He made everyone around him better and could finish inside as well as anyone.  451 points in college says this guy is a legend.  Doing it at Salisbury doesn’t hurt either!  Coming off of 249 goals and 202 assists is even better!  That’s balance!

Jason Coffman Salisbury University Lacrosse

Photo Courtesy: Doug Pensinger/ALLSP/GettyImages

9. Jim Thorpe

Thorpe is regarded as pretty much the best American athlete of all time.  His ability to play a multitude of sports, and excel at them all, is still unparalleled.  Jim Brown, Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson… they’ve got nothing on this guy.  So sure, he only played lax in high school, but that alone gets him on my legend list!  He played a lot of sports, and lax was one of them.  Because of his sporting stature overall, he makes my list.  I’m only imaginign what he did on the lacrosse field.  But it’s impressive nonetheless.  See?  Legend is all in our minds!

8. John Grant Senior

Everyone knows about John Grant Junior these days, and they have for years.  His stick skills are the best in the world, he epitomizes one-handed box lacrosse effectiveness, and he learned it all from his dad.  At lest that’s what I’ve heard, and it only adds to the legend.  legendary lacrosse playing man passing his skill on to his son is legendary in all the right ways.  And JG Sr did such a good job that JGJr would probably show up on most people’s lists.  So Senior makes mine.  He’s a legend in Canada, and deservedly so.  With the exponential increase in Canadians in the NCAA, Senior’s importance to the game will only INCREASE.  Legend.

7. Paul Gait

It’s tough to put Paul at #7.  It really is.  But honestly, in my mind, he gets overshadowed by Gary.  Probably not fair, but again, legend status is all about perception.  For me, Paul is less of a legend through story though.  It’s more personal, yet limited, than that.  Like I’ve said before, I got to cover Paul Gait once at Placid.  It was… a learning experience for me.  His ability to dictate play, see things 3-4 steps before they happened and simply dominate with one hand was magical to behold.  I had to remind myself to cover him and not watch him more than once.  His exploits at ‘Cuse, and in the MLL, and for Team Canada, AND in box lacrosse are all impressive.  His willingness to play second fiddle to Gary at times is almost more impressive, and it shows he wanted to win, above all else.  Marks of a legend!

6. Dave Pietramala

The man simply changed the way defense was played in the sport of lacrosse.  I’ve heard offensive players were terrified to run against him, and entire clears were designed to keep the ball away from Petro.  He could run with anyone on the field and had a mean streak a mile wide.  He was FEARED and respected, and played like a caged animal.  He was precise and punishing, and made defense a lot more glamorous.  The days of playing physical body only were departing… and Petro was ushering in a new era.  It was the time of the takeaway defenseman.  Changing the game is legendary.

5. Mike Powell

I have to be honest.  I miss watching MP play lax.  He was so diverse in his skill set, so athletic, and extremely selfless.  He took big hits, drew a ton of attention, and either smoked his man or found an open teammate.  I saw him make looping feeds from 30 yards away to a cutting middie well before the play had developed.  But the passes always found their mark.  A friend of mine played at Cuse with him for a year and said MP won EVERY running test/conditioning drill they ever did.  And he did so easily.  MP did a front flip in a game ONLY for the Cuse fans. He was a showman, a winner, came from a legendary lax family, and at his height, he gave it all up to pursue a music career.  And people STILL talk about him as the lax messiah.  Legend.

4. Oren Lyons

Sure, Oren was, and is, a legendary lacrosse goalie.  Even at 81 he would probably be better than most in between the pipes.  He was an All-American at Cuse, played for an undefeated team his graduating year, and played a lot of club ball afterwards.  But to me, what makes him a legend is his refusal to give up on the style of lacrosse with which he was raised.  I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve heard he always tended goal in the typical box style, even when he was playing field.  I’ve heard he loved to save the ball high with his elbows, shoulders, chest and even his head.  I’ve also heard he jumped in net at well over 70 years old, and anyone who will do that gets my undying respect.  He’s a faithkeeper for the Iroquois, has given more back to the game than most and should be on everyone’s legend list.

3. Jim Brown

Jim Brown is super famous for his glory on the football field, along with all of the amazing charitable work he has done.  He is a man that believes in helping his community and all of that makes him a legend.  But he also loved lacrosse.  I’ve heard that he said “If pro lacrosse had been an option, I would have chosen that over football”.  I have no idea if this is true or not.  But I choose to believe that it is because that’s how legends work.  The Great Jim Brown would have played lax.  For some reason it makes me feel good.  But I’ve also heard he just clamped the stick to his chest and was a better athlete than everyone else.  And then you see clips of him playing, and you’re impressed, and you learn that last part of the legend isn’t really that true.  But it only makes him bigger in my mind.

2. Gary Gait

Gary obviously had to be on the list.  The Air Gait is still the most memorable lacrosse moment in recent history.  Gait played FOREVER, for every sort of team under the Sun.  He won EVERYWHERE.  Now he coaches women’s lacrosse, where he also wins.  He was the face of the sport for what seemed like eternity, and no one wanted to change that.  He was friendly, signed autographs and just wowed people every single time he went on the field.  He was athletic, but he wasn’t the biggest or fastest guy on the field.  As he aged, he got “bigger” but was no less effective.  In fact, he might have even improved quite a bit.  Gait could still go out and play in the MLL RIGHT NOW if he wanted to.  He’s just that good.  The stories are numerous, the name recognition undeniable.  His status as a legend is set in stone.

1. Jimmy Lewis

Yup.  my #1 legend is a bit different than most people’s.  Jimmy was a 3x All-American at Navy.  The only reason he wasn’t a 4x AA is because freshman couldn’t play varsity lax back then.  He was dominant.  And to those that know the history of the game, he is well qualified to be #1.  But he is the #1 legend to me for a different reason.  Lewis is credited by many as one of the guys who made smaller, box style heads more popular in the US college game.  Along with is brother, John (my high school coach), he would go to the stick manufacturer’s warehouse and pick out the most well-balanced, and just as importantly, SMALLEST, sticks he could find.  They would spend HOURS going through sticks, finding the right ones.  Why?  Because Jimmy and John recognized the importance of a good stick.  And this changed things.

Jim Lewis - Navy All-American Lacrosse Attackman - 1966 file photo

Jimmy Lewis - Photo Courtesy The Baltimore Sun

People saw Jimmy’s success, and they wanted to mimic it.  They too wanted smaller lacrosse sticks that were more maneuverable in traffic and lighter.  They too wanted to play like Lewis, and so the game changed, because of a man.  The Edge was introduced to us, the consumers.  In Jimmy’s case, the manufacturers were introduced to the idea, but by a player.  I only met Jimmy Lewis once or twice, and I never asked him if this story was totally true, but like everything I mentioned above, I choose to believe that it is, because these are my heroes.

Guys who JUST BARELY missed the Cut:

Ryan Boyle – Love how he plays, very cerebral.  He is the epitome of a modern-day, team lacrosse player.

Brian Dougherty – Best goalie I’ve ever seen play.  Total winner, total talker, legendary player and character.

Brodie Merrill – Probably my #11.  Seriously, this guy is a monster with a dpole, or as a box defender, tranistion, offensive player.  I love a guy that can do it all, both indoors and out.

Jeremy Thompson – I know, perhaps a bit premature.  But see above.  He too can do it all.  And his long hair and Native American roots give him a platform to perform some amazing feats.  Plus he comes from a total lacrosse family.  If he wins a World Box or Field Championship with the Iroquois he will be a legend instantly.  Think about it.

Kyle Harrison – Another one of those guys that can do it all.  He’s a great athlete, can face off well, shoots and passes and makes teammates better.  He’s all over the world growing the game and doing his thing.  And it’s all with a smile on his face.  I’ve met Kyle, seen him in action and know he’s the real deal.  Definitely on the top 20 list!

So who did I miss?  Ok, let me have it.

About the author

Connor Wilson

Connor is the Publisher of He lives in Brooklyn with his better half, continues to play and coach both box and field lacrosse in NYC as much as possible, and covers the great game that is lacrosse full-time. He spends his spare time stringing sticks and watching Futurama.


  •  Jeremy Thompson? That’s nonsense. JHU’s Del Dressel or MD’s Frank Urso would make better “Just Barley Missed”

  • Well to be fair, they are honorable mentions, and we all know that means nothing, right MCLA AA list?  But seriously…. i love a good two way middie who can f/o.  Sue me.

  • Bill Miller, Hobart

    This comes from IL online editor Christian Swezey.  It ran on July 2, 2008

    “There is a precedent for at least arguing that a Division III player can be the best player in the country.

    In 1991, the two premier players were Dennis Goldstein of UNC and Bill Miller
    of Hobart. Each led his team to a national title (Hobart was Division
    III back then, just as it was for a few days this past spring).

    Pat McCabe, then a senior defenseman for Syracuse, guarded both.

    “Billy gave me a lot of tough times,” McCabe says. “So did
    Dennis…Billy was a great athlete. He was very herky-jerky. He could
    get inside you or attack you from the wing…Dennis was more of the
    traditional quarterback. Everything Carolina ran they ran through him.

    “There’s no doubt Billy was a great player no matter what level he
    played. If there had been an MLL in 1992, Billy would have exploded. He
    also played on the U.S. World Team in 1998.”

    Which player was better? McCabe didn’t have an answer. Georgetown coach Dave Urick,
    who recruited Miller, says “no question” Miller was one of the best
    players in the country regardless that he played Division III.

    But was he the best? Can a Division III player be considered the top player in the nation?”

  • I don’t think there is anything harder then picking 10 guys and making this list especially with a ton of great players but overall I would say you did a great job.

  • I might add “The Beast” Ric Beardsley in there somewhere… Talk about “Legendary stories”.  One of my favorite “stories” is where he D’s a guy up (Against Hobart?), the guy tries to dodge, he strips him, Ric scoops the ball up, and rolls it back out to him, and tells him to try it again….!!!

  • A couple emails I got:

    Email 1
    1. Jim Brown – best athlete ever to
    pick up stick

    2. Gary Gait – best lacrosse player
    ever to walk the planet

    3. Casey Powell – as much as I hate
    him, best modern US
    lax player/ambassador

    4. Bill Miller – best inside
    finisher ever

    5. Darren Lowe – best feeding
    attackman ever

    6. Pat McCabe – best d-man of all

    7. Gordon Purdie – best all-around
    middie ever

    8. Michael Watson – best finisher

    9. Dave Petromala – best takeaway defender
    of all time

    10. Scott Bacigalupo – best goalie
    everEmail 2
    Thank you for getting Jimmy Lewis in the top spot.  No
    question there.  I know a lot of younger folks did not see him play or
    have ever heard of him, but he was the MAN.  I saw him play in college as
    Navy racked up 3 straight national championships.  I also had the honor of
    playing against him in the Vail Shootout.


    Others for the list:


    Eamon McEananey of Cornell (70’s)Dick Finley of Syracuse and the
    Long Island Lacrosse Club, 60’s and 70”s (best two way middie
    I ever saw; offensive threat off the dodge both ways, 90 plus MPH 
    side arm shot, feeder, catch and shoot off the cut either hand, and
    takeaway/shut-off defender).  Frank Urso of U of Maryland (70’s)Vinnie Sombrotto of Hofstra and
    Long island Lacrosse Club, ‘70-90’s
    (plus 4 or 5 straight World teams); except for the Gaits, no one played at
    a sustained high level than he did Larry Quinn of JHU, 80’s,

    Pretty solid emails I’d say!

  • Sometimes Jim Brown did clamp his stick to his chest.  But throwing a cross body block on him was like throwing one on a telephone pole.  He didn’t need to cradle anyway.  He was that good.

  • I’m really glad you add Mikey Powell to this list. Een though play deface he is my hero, and inspiration ,
    When I was in 4th grade I had to Pick either lacrosse or baseball, I was a decent lax player and a better baseball player,
    But I was watching Boston cannons play and saw Mikey Powell dominate and during the game I was shown clips of his stick tricks and flips and I knew from them I wanted to be a lax player
    I’m glad he is being recognized for being an outstanding lacrosse player

  • Unfortunately, you’re missing a whole population of great lax players.  When I was at Hamilton, we scrimmaged against the team from the Oneida Indian Reservation (where Jim Brown played after he ran out of eligibility at Syracuse).  I can still remember one attack guy, who was at least 50 y.o., shaped like a soccer ball, smoked a cigarette everytime play stopped, and flicked in goals without ever running at all.  But that’s where the game came from, after all.  Those players will never be remembered on anybody’s list, and it’s a shame.

  • I’m going to 2nd Ryan Wade and also add John Tucker.  I’ve played for over 30 years and am a student of the sport.  Very good list Connor.  FYI, while at UNC from ’93-’96,  we were 6-1 vs Doc and Maryland, so although he is very good, I can’t give him a top 10 spot.  I’d put Greg Cattrano in the top 10.

  • Casey Powell = Living (Active) Legend.  You will be hard pressed to find a more balanced offensive player in the game.  Knows how to get it done in field and box; and keeps doing it as one of the best even at 35.  And Jay Jalbert?… Skilled.  Tenacious.  Ahead of his time.  Played at the highest level.  Midfielder of the World = Legend.

    And because we represent the long poles, we 2nd the Petro nod and think Beardsley deserves some love for carrying the torch.

    Lastly, some goalies come to mind: Bacigalupo and the undeniable Sal LoCascio.  Look up LoCascio because there are far too many accolades to list for this Hall of Famer.  He is a physical phenomenon – like an NFL lineman who runs a 4.4, simply amazing.  He’s in the mix for best of all time and that means Legend. 

  • Kyle Harrison “can do it all”? He’s a nice field player, but doesn’t/cannot play box. Never has, nver will. He never was truly established at the MLL level. He prefers the junior varsity LXMPro!!

    How cold you not even place Casey and Ryan Powell in the mix?!!

    Casey has really done it all– NCAA champ, NLL MVP, World Champ field lacrosse, Captain of USA Indoor team. The guy is a true ambassador of the sport, and you need to pay your respects!

  • I was thinking of Del Dressel as well. I saw him play at the New Orleans Lacrosse Tournament in 1984, and he was unreal.

  • These guys are legends in my mind…

    Gary Gait, Paul Gait, John Reese, Ryan Wade, Rob Shek, Kyle Harrison, Paul Rabil, Tim Soudan, Jim Buczek, Dom Fin, Roy Colsey, AJ Haugen

    Powells, Tom Maracheck, Brian Wood, Jim Blanding, Terry Riordan, Matt Panetta, Michael Watson, Mark Millon, Steve Marohl, John Webster, Doug Knight, Matt Danowski, Ryan Boyle, Jeff Cook ( )

    Ric Beardsley, Petro, Pat McCabe, Brian Burlace, Brodie Merrill

    Scott Bacigalupo, Sal Locascio, Brian Dougherty

  • This is a true story. It was in the New York state championship game. He stripped the kid, gave it back, and stripped the kid again. Awesome story.

  • Matt Striebel? He starred as a member of the Princeton Tigers men’s lacrosse team from 1998 through 2001 and the Princeton Tigers men’s soccer team from 1997 through 2000.During his time at Princeton, the team qualified for the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship all four years, reached the championship game three times, won the championship game twice and won four Ivy League championships. He was a two-time honorable mentionUnited States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) All-American and three-time All-Ivy League selection (once first team, twice second team). He was also an All-Ivy league performer in soccer and earned Princeton co-athlete of the year honors as a senior.
    As a professional, he has earned three MLL championships, MLL All-Star recognition and an MLL championship game MVP award. He is also a three-time Team USA representative and two-time World Lacrosse Championship gold medalist.
     the rest here

  •  1.Gary Gait
    2. John Grant Jr
    3. Paul Gait
    4. Mike French
    5. Petro
    6. Tavares
    7. Marecheck
    8. Merill
    9. Colsey
    10. Doc

    most of these lists are awfully field bias. Most field players have terrible stick skills.

    All the best players are gigantic guys with box backgrounds

  • though gary gait has the accolades.

    Real Talk. John grant jr in his prime was unstoppable. Too big, too skilled

    07-08 he dominated field and box.

    Nobody was even close to his level.

    Gait was faster, but grant was more skilled

    Gait is gretzky and John grant Jr is Mario Lemieux

    if he hadn’t have torn his acl in 09, there wouldn’t even need to be a list.

    Watching him play in his prime is still the highlight of my lacrosse viewing history

  • Forgot Frank Urso.  Possibly the best midfielder ever. Set all kinds of record on Long Island and 4 Time First Team AA at Maryland… not to many of those.

  • GREAT points for sure!  I had a really hard time leaving CP and RP off this list.
    I just really like two way middies, and while he was in college, there were NONE better than K18.  Of course none of those guys actually made my top ten list, which still might be wrong.

    It was hard!

  • Yup!  I am definitely missing out on that… like I said, my list is totally biased and I have missed a TON of greats, both known and unknown.  I wish I were less ignorant of that kind of lax!!!!  Care to help me learn about it?  It would be a privilege for me to do so!

  • there are a lot of field players on my list… probably b/c I was raised playing field.
    But Box certainly has its reps on the list.  JG Sr, Gait, Gait, OL… that’s 4 right there.  And Coffman was no slough in the box game either.
    Pretty diverse considering my Uhmericanism.

  •  wow.  what a comment!  Wish I could have seen him play!  Sounds like I really missed out…

  • Unfortunately, I’ve no idea if the various reservation teams kept records or even team rosters of any kind.  Each year when the Oneidas came to scrimmage there were some familiar faces and some new ones.  Because they were scrimmages rather than games, I doubt the Hamilton athletic office would have retained any info.  Also, I’m not sure who else they played, or even if the reservation fields a team!  Bottom line, I’m no help.  But there’s a book waiting to be written about lacrosse on the Indian Reservations!!

  • Dave Morrow could be on that list too.  One of the first players from a non traditional area to make an impact as a player, one of the 2 dominant defensemen from his era along with Petrimala and no one has a bigger impact on the equipment and marketing of the sport than he has. 

  • No list can omit Casey & Ryan, unless you make the Powells as a single entry, as in #’s 1, 1A & 1B

  • Frank Urso was the prototype for what everyone now looks for in a D1 middie.  Watching him blow a goalie away from the restraining line was unforgettable to anyone who saw it.  He was the eye of the storm in every game he played in.  He had every possible tool for a midfielder, in an era when all middies also played defense.

    Google him, and read the archived Sports Illustrated article about him.  You’ll see.

  • Wesley patterson: he invented the plastic stick, played at UMass, herd a story that he once scoref 26 goals in one weekend (2 games). Deffinalty ledgendary status

  • what about Frank Urso. I watched him play at md. as a fellow terp. He made wilder  more creatively outragious goals than anyone ive ever seen around his back, behind the neck, tumbling flying through the air, he was constantly double and triple teamed. He was better at breaking down a defense from up top and  getting to the goal and finishing or making a great feed  Didnt see jimmy brown but urso was by far the best ive ever seen

  • Frankly, you cold have moved John Grant Sr up the list!  He was a nightmare to try to stop and most of the time no one could.  Had the pleasure of watching some of the best on the planet try to defend him playing box with little or no success.  His only drawback?  He was just too nice off the field and had no time to try to self-promote.  The story goes when he answered the phone and was told he had been inducted into the Hall of Fame he responded, are you sure you have the right John Grant?  

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