Latrell Harris, Mike Messenger Thriving After Making the Jump Outdoors


It was the type of gritty play you’d expect from a box player. Chrome LC’s Mike Messenger started the sequence with a cerebral defensive play on one end, then sealed the game with a goal on the crease on the other.

It started with a double-team on Lyle Thompson of the Cannons in overtime, with Messenger joining teammate JT Giles-Harris to help lodge the ball loose. After Messenger cleared the ball, the Surrey, British Columbia, native stayed in prime position for Brendan Nichtern’s restart from X.

One stellar pass from the Rookie of the Year candidate later, and Messenger put a shot past Nick Marrocco to complete the Chrome’s improbable six-goal comeback.

Pretty good for a player those who only follow pro field lacrosse may not have even heard of a few months prior.

“The first game or two I was a little bit nervous with not playing field in a while and trying a new thing again,” Messenger said. “Now I just feel comfortable.”

A decent-sized crop of American defenders, both poles and short-stick defensive middies, have made their way to the National Lacrosse League. Helped by the NLL’s rapid expansion, Liam Byrnes, Isaiah Davis-Allen, Matt Dunn, Mark Glicini, Eli Gobrecht, Connor Kirst and Ryan Terefenko have all gotten the opportunity in recent years to show that their skills translate indoors.

It has been less common to see Canadian defensemen make the transition to the roster-crunched Premier Lacrosse League. Yet, two years in a row, teams have found diamonds in the rough at the short-stick defensive midfielder position with Messenger and Latrell Harris of the Archers.

Neither drew headlines when added from the player pool, but both have made major contributions. Entering Week 8 in Denver, Messenger ranks second among SSDMs in caused turnovers, and Harris is tied for second among SSDMs in ground balls.

The pair’s adjustment to the PLL is even more impressive when you consider their lacrosse backgrounds. While Harris and Messenger both played collegiately — Harris at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and Messenger at Division II Limestone University — neither did so as SSDMs.

Messenger was an offensively minded midfielder with the Saints, leading the nation in scoring and securing the USILA/Nike Lt. Raymond J. Enner Award as the most outstanding player in the sport. Despite being a stellar defensive prospect indoors, there was no reason for Limestone to throw him back there.

Harris was set to attend High Point as a pole before getting the devasting news that his grades weren’t up to par to join the Panthers. He instead entered the NLL Draft as an 18-year-old, getting selected by the Toronto Rock, while playing at the U Sports level in Canada.

For both, their reputations as strong defenders with a short stick were built indoors. Messenger has become a menace in transition for the Rush, helping Saskatchewan to a championship in 2018. Harris has developed into one of the top young defensemen in the league, with Rock owner Jamie Dawick saying last month he doesn’t see him playing anywhere else after signing him to a two-year extension.

Harris had no previous professional outdoor experience when the Archers added him through waivers following the 2021 Entry Draft, but he had impressed at the World Championships and boasted an athletic profile that was hard to ignore.

Archers coach Chris Bates originally envisioned a hybrid long-stick midfielder and SSDM role for Harris, but after selecting Jared Conners in the PLL College Draft, Harris was limited to a shortie. In his first season, he notched five points, four on goals, in addition to 11 ground balls and six caused turnovers in nine games.

“Once I got picked up from the waiver pool, I knew it was gametime,” Harris said. “I had to crack that roster.”

Messenger, who enjoyed a short three-game MLL stint with the Ohio Machine in 2017, was signed by the Chrome in May. In short time, he’s built a reputation as a hard hitter with some of the most intimidating eye black you’ll ever see.

“About halfway through the box season this year, I had a bunch of my teammates and opposing players as well saying I should throw my name in the pool and see what happens,” Messenger said. “I had a couple coaches reach out. [Chrome coach Tim Soudan] was kind of the first one. We started talking and he watched some film, seemed interested. He took a shot on me for not having played field in four or five years.”

Messenger keyed in on the advantages box defenders enjoy in the transition outdoors, notably the added time the bigger field provides that helps in reading the opposition.

“You’ve got more methodical plays, where indoors you’re quick, quick, quick,” Messenger said. “It gives me a bit more time to think.”

But, of course, there’s a downside to the space, too.

“They’ve got a couple steps going at you,” Harris said of opponents’ midfielders. “And when someone has a full head of steam when you’re coming down the field and your approach wasn’t ready, you’re probably going to get blown by. My first year was kind of tough, just getting the distance and everything down, but my second year coming in I’m starting to understand it.”

There’s nowhere to hide, especially considering offenses are designed to attack the short stick.

“They said D-mids tend to get beat a lot of times. Just push them down the alley toward your slide,” Harris said. “For me, I never want to get beat. In box, if you get beat, you’re probably getting sat on the bench or your D coach is giving you an earful. In field, if you get beat it’s OK. Hopefully you have a slide going and you just retreat to the inside and find the open man. That’s what I had to learn. I had to learn I’m going to get beat, but I don’t like to at all.”

It takes a mental shift of sorts, but both Harris and Messenger have accomplished the feat. Now with plenty of experience, they will be relied upon down the stretch by teams with high aspirations. The Archers and the Chrome both sit at 4-3, in third and fourth place, respectively, with eyes on a championship.

Perhaps their success will open more doors to others looking to play lacrosse at the highest level year-round.

“There’s got to be five guys from each team in the NLL that could definitely come out here and either crack a roster spot or have a great training camp and turn some heads,” Harris said.


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