What Lyle Thompson accomplished last year was stuff of all-time college lacrosse lore. His name is already all over the record book — and many of his plays etched into the memories and imaginations of fans — heading into his senior season.
But what Thompson and Albany achieves this spring could add another layer to an already sparkling legacy for college lacrosse's finest player.
How far does Albany go with Thompson as the true alpha dog, without his brother and co-Tewaaraton Award winner Miles, and cousin Ty, on the team?
Is another 100-plus point season in the offing? If so, Lyle will shatter the NCAA Division I men's career points record set by Rob Pannell at Cornell just two seasons ago, which is 76 points away.
Lyle will receive the type of hype and recognition reserved for a player with his talents. The Florida Launch picked him first overall in the Major League Lacrosse collegiate draft on Jan. 23. Of attention from defenses in the form of double- and triple-teams, Thompson said, "I expect it to be at a whole other level."
How he handles it — and if he helps make a new supporting cast around him better as the season goes on — could give Lyle's reputation even more meaningful reverence.
For those thinking Albany is starting from scratch this season, with Lyle as the centerpiece, you're close to the right ballpark. Not only are his fellow attack starters gone, but so is the Great Danes entire starting close defense.
But this isn't a complete rebuild. Seven of Albany's top eight midfielders — coach Scott Marr employs four groups of two unlike the traditional three-man lines — return as does their starting goalie. And Lyle's supporting cast on attack is probably better than imagined, with the recent additions of Onondaga Community College transfers Seth Oakes and Ky Tarbell, and heralded freshman Connor Fields.
"Last year, you see him play at Albany with his brother and cousin and you see him dominate," ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra said. "Then you watch him in the world games in the summer where it's not the same offense and cast of characters, his brother wasn't his main-go to, and he showed me that as long as you put some pretty good players around him, Lyle is going to be Lyle."
"Anyone who thinks his game is going to slip because his brother and cousin aren't there is really mistaken. They're going to plug guys in. He's going to break 100 points again. I'd be pretty surprised if he doesn't. I don't think you can stop this kid at the college level."
Thompson, although he spent most of his childhood growing up at Onondaga Nation just south of Syracuse, played with Oakes and Tarbell, who are both Mohawk and were raised on the Akwesasne reservation on the U.S.-Canada border along the St. Lawrence River. That's where Lyle's grandparents are from, and where he lived early in childhood. Oakes and Tarbell will be in Thompson's wedding this year.
Oakes was on the training team for the Iroquois Nationals at the 2014 world games this summer, and was an All-World pick for the Iroquois at the 2012 under-19 men's championship in Finland, he, Lyle and Tarbell helped the team win a bronze medal.
Fields is Albany's freshman to watch. The lefty posted the two highest goal-scoring seasons in New York State high school history playing for Bishop Timon-St. Jude (N.Y.). Although Fields verbally committed to Albany before his sophomore season — before Lyle Thompson's star really took off — Fields' mouth was watering watching his future teammate dazzle the lacrosse world.
"You dream of playing with somebody like that," Fields said this fall.
And in the fall, he got his first chance. Fields earned the respect of Thompson with his finishing and ability to get open and create his own opportunities.
"He's a good fit," Thompson said.
In practices, after a drill or set, Lyle would often pull Fields and Albany's other underclassmen working in on offense to assess how they're doing and give pointers. Same in the film room.
Lyle sat out the end of fall with a balky hip, as a preventive measure. It was a long and successful calendar year of lacrosse. From wearing the purple and gold at Albany in the spring to a similar themed uniform with the Iroquois Nationals in the summer and finally, in August, a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, to compete with his three brothers with Onondaga Redhawks for the Presidents' Cup Canadian Senior B title. They won.
Lacrosse Magazine's preseason player of the year honor refers only to the college season, and so when we talk about Lyle's goals for 2015, we'll stop short of making any pronouncements outside the realm of the spring. Even so, the goals are high.
"He wants to repeat the Tewaaraton," says Thompson's cousin, Bill O'Brien, who manages Thompson Brothers Lacrosse and is a defenseman on the NLL's New England Black Wolves. "And he wants to bring his team even further then he did last year."
Sounds like it's the final four for No. 4 — or bust.