Boys' player of the year Ryan Graff
Bloomington Jefferson's Ryan Graff estimated he had a lacrosse stick in his hand at 15 minutes old. He began playing competitively in second grade. And he's been one of the best players on his teams ever since.
A senior this spring, Graff capped a remarkable career with the Jaguars, leaving with program records in career goals (171) and assists (139). More than just a high-octane offensive threat, Graff matured into a team leader.
Opposing coaches took notice, citing Graff's intelligent play and penchant for making teammates better. Those attributes helped make Graff the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year.
"He's left his mark on our program," Jaguars coach Scott Cater said.
Opponents did likewise trying to contain Graff. He played with a quadriceps contusion much of his junior year. Again this spring, being a marked man took a toll even if he hid it well.
"I don't mind taking a beating," Graff said. "I take pride in the bruises I find on my arms or the cuts on my shoulders. You learn to play through it."
While injuries sidelined fellow elite lacrosse players Blake Leischow of Orono and JD Spielman of Eden Prairie this spring, Graff's durability kept him in the midst of the action. Playing hard and bringing energy made Jefferson a top program the past few seasons.
"We were at our best when our energy was high," said Graff, who will play college lacrosse at Harvard, his father's alma mater.
Cater worked with Graff, a star since freshman year, to become a more effective communicator. The young man blossomed into what Cater called "the first true player-coach I've had in 20 years."
"Rather than asking, 'Why did you do that?' I'll say something like, 'OK next time we run this, let's do this,' " Graff said. "The guys all have talent and skill so it was easy for me to make them better. This award really goes to them."
Rich lacrosse knowledge came from Graff's father, Rob. A standout high school defenseman in New York, Rob played at Harvard and later took a job in Minnesota. He coached the Minnesota-Duluth men's lacrosse program from 1992 to 2010. He began coaching in the Bloomington youth ranks and co-founded Team Minnesota.
Ryan became a fixture on the sidelines at Minnesota-Duluth games, playing catch with players and occasionally driving his father crazy. Never more so than the time in northern California when Ryan felt cold and tired and zipped himself into a player's equipment bag for a nap.
"Midway through the third quarter my dad yells, 'Where's Ryan?' " Graff said. "He literally ordered everyone out except a midfielder and a long-stick midfielder to go looking for me."