Rock's Harris developing into star defender

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Latrell Harris is one of the youngest players in the National Lacrosse League despite being in his third season with the Toronto Rock, and with every passing year, the rearguard is making a stronger case to be a candidate for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.

After finishing just short of the Champions Cup in 2015, the Rock would finish 5-13 a year later. The team would be forced into a small rebuild after franchise icons Colin Doyle and Josh Sanderson retired that offseason. They held two of the top 15 selections in the 2016 draft - the second and 12th overall picks.

With the No. 2 pick, they’d select future captain Challen Rogers. He was coming off a solid summer with the Oakville Rock and was a legitimate candidate to be selected with the first overall pick.

At 12, the Rock would select Harris, an 18-year-old who they believed had one of the highest ceilings in the entire class.

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“I was very delighted because that meant that my family could be there with every step I took,” Harris said. “I also knew that Toronto was a great organization so I was very pleased to be drafted by them.”

The defender decided to take the route of foregoing the NCAA in favour of turning pro immediately. As a result, Harris would come into his rookie season as the youngest player in the league.

He would make an instant impact on the Rock’s back end, bringing speed and physicality to the table every night.

It only took five games for him to find the back of the net on a one-handed shot against the Calgary Roughnecks, the team that his cousin, Tyson Bell, was playing for. While the two family members share a friendly rivalry on the floor, Harris didn’t want to talk up the goal when he got back to the benches.

“I’m not that type of person. If I had scored two or three more, then I would’ve said something (to Tyson), but I was just very excited when I scored that one. It was an amazing moment that I’ll never forget,” Harris said.

For a rookie, every game is a learning moment. Harris was shown the ups and downs of the league in the team’s next game against the Georgia Swarm. He would score a go-ahead goal with just under a minute to play. However, off the ensuing faceoff, he would get an interference penalty. The Swarm would tie it up on that man advantage and eventually take the game in overtime.

“Stuff can happen right away. You can’t dwell on anything, so when that happened, I was obviously really down on myself. I felt like I just lost it for my team,” he said. “But the boys helped me rally and the coaches were talking to me. I just tried to be better from there.”

Harris would manage to have one of the most impressive rookie campaigns ever by a defender. He set the team and league records for forced turnovers by a first-year player with 29, finished top 15 in the league for loose balls with 109, and was tied for the most goals by a rookie defensemen with seven.

In 2018, he would finish with 13 points and 104 loose balls. He also had 34 caused turnovers, which tied him with Graeme Hossack, the eventual Defender of the Year.

This past summer, Harris played for Canada at the FIL World Field Lacrosse Championships. He would help his team capture a silver medal while spending time as both a short-stick defensive midfielder and a long-stick middie - two positions that were admittedly new to him.

He took those experiences in Israel and brought them back to the box this season.

The 21-year-old has developed into one of the best defenders on the Rock roster, and while he has just seven points in 2019, he’s been a beast in his own end. Harris is second on the team in caused turnovers with 20 and is on pace to tie his career high in loose balls.

He’s been a sponge while playing under defensive coach Bruce Codd, who he’s been playing against throughout his junior career.

“I’m very thankful that he’s my coach and I’m not up against him,” Harris said.

Codd was part of the brass that chose Harris back in 2016, as was current Rock head coach Matt Sawyer, who says the staff has been pushing the defender to reach his potential.

“Latrell can tease you at times because he can be so dominant. I don’t say that negatively because he’s still a young kid,” Sawyer said.“What you’re looking for is consistency and Latrell has been challenged here lately because he has the ability to be one of our best defenders who can control a game, much like a Challen Rogers or Brad Kri.”

“He’s a special player who can make special plays.”

With a win over the Philadelphia Wings on Saturday night, the Rock clinched a playoff spot. They’ll be looking to get hot down the stretch to help bring home the seventh championship in franchise history.

Harris hopes that he can play in the Minto Cup with the St. Catherines Athletics in his final year of junior lacrosse this summer. He also has aspirations of representing Canada on the largest stage in the world.

“Hopefully I can be on NBC in 2022.”