There are many integral pieces to a championship team.
Naturally, the star players receive top billing for their performance. The coaching staff, too, for molding a cohesive unit capable of achieving the highest recognition in sports.
But there are also the bench players. The ones who practice the same amount as the starters, yet rarely, if ever, see their names in the box score.
For the 2012 Division I NCAA men’s lacrosse champion Loyola Greyhounds, long stick midfielder T.J. Harris was one of those players.
Harris, a junior and graduate of DeMatha Catholic, said he has played lacrosse for 11 years to achieve the moment that finally came the instant the final horn sounded in Loyola’s 9-3 national title game victory against the University of Maryland at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
“It’s what you play for when you start playing the game. The whole experience of the weekend was picture-perfect. It’s what you dream about when you’re little,” Harris said.
Harris, who was the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 2009, said he feels proud of the work he and his teammates devoted to their 18-1 campaign — the lone loss coming against Johns Hopkins in the final regular season game.
“I feel like everyone had a similar attitude to my own, which is, ‘I’m going to push the guys in practice as hard as I can,’” Harris said. “If we’re playing Georgetown, I’ll try to play like Georgetown and give a lot of checks. Whatever I could do to make our team better is what I was going to do. I felt like we had a good sense of that this year in practice.”
Harris started every game of his high school career and helped the Stags win WCAC titles in 2006, 2008 and 2009. A native of Crofton, Harris played in three games for the Greyhounds this year after playing in one game in 2011 and three in 2010.
“To be recruited by as many schools as I heard from was an honor,” Harris said. “I still feel like Loyola is the place where I fit in the most. It’s a special place for me. I have had a lot of family members go there, including both my parents.”
Harris said he grew up watching Loyola play and always envisioned the Greyhounds as a national powerhouse. He was just never sure if the national championship would come.
In the locker room at Gillette Stadium, there was no uncertainty.
“It was funny, we were sitting the locker room and everyone’s turning their phones back on and they’ve got like 70 new texts and 50 new Facebook messages and all these people tweeting at you,” he said. “The support I received this year from former high school teammates or people reaching out, as well as all of our fans, it was absolutely amazing.”
The 6-foot, 175-pound long stick middie also played baseball and football growing up, but decided to pursue lacrosse as he aged. He said a 13-8 victory against Duke University was a pivotal moment for the Greyhounds to assert themselves this season and he’ll always remember beating the University of Denver three times in the same year.
And, of course, the dog pile at the end of the championship game.
“We were at the bottom of that pile and it’s just something I’ll never forget,” he said. “Everyone’s faces and how happy everyone was. It was amazing.”