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A lacrosse warrior's field of dreams Add to ...

The curved bleachers at Cornell University's Schoellkopf Field rise like an open clam. About 7,000 students cheer on the Big Red home team, while orange-clad fans of two-time national champion Syracuse University scream: "We are SU!"

Among the 20 helmeted players clashing with lacrosse sticks below, Syracuse's Cody Jamieson, a Mohawk from the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ont., stands out.

At 5-foot-9 and stocky, "Jammer" doesn't have the ropy physique of a typical college lacrosse player, but his ability to unleash over-the-shoulder and between-the-legs shots has a man shouting: "C'mon, Jammer!" as he charges an arc around the net.

The 22-year-old battles with such force that by halftime his stick is bent. But while other Syracuse players might head for the team's gear technicians and trainers, Mr. Jamieson darts to the sideline, where his father is waiting, screwdriver in hand.

They wrestle with a bolt, trying to free the netted head so it can be attached to another shaft. Mr. Jamieson explains later that calling on your dad is instinctual when you come from a place where fathers and sons have been whipping lacrosse balls since their ancestors invented the game.

"He's done it a million times for me."

Mr. Jamieson is something of an oddity in this mostly white league. Most players come from places adept at ushering athletes into preppy Ivy League and East Coast universities, where lacrosse is a marquee sport.

Although Six Nations produces some of the top lacrosse players in Ontario, the educational requirements of the National Collegiate Athletic Association mean most players end up at lower-level two-year colleges, or head straight for the pros.

Nevertheless, Mr. Jamieson has cracked Division I as a major and bankable star.

He wears No. 22, the number traditionally reserved for the best Syracuse player. The flashy chrome head on his lacrosse stick was sent to him by Nike. On this particular day, he's on the cover of a lacrosse magazine owned by ESPN.

A senior, he will soon be playing professionally in the National Lacrosse League, where he could be drafted first over all.

Tonight, he contributes two points to his team's 8-7 victory. Afterward, as reporters circle and kids ask for autographs, Jammer obliges politely.

Tattooed on his ankle is the A-shaped logo of the Six Nations Arrows, the champion Junior A team that made him a hero in his small community long before college recruiters knew his name.

Home base

Cole Jamieson, Cody's father, drives down Indian Line Road, a straight stretch that forms the southern boundary of the Six Nations Reserve, a square bordered by farmland that is home to about 11,000 people.

"As soon as you mention Six Nations, there's two things people think of: smoke shops and protesters," Mr. Jamieson says wearily, driving past tidy yards. "There are lots of people who do well at what they do."

He turns into the parking lot of Iroquois Lacrosse Arena, built several years ago by his brother-in-law, Curt Styres, who owns a professional lacrosse team in Rochester. Inside, a life-size poster of Cody shares wall space with his Arrows teammates, national champions in 2007.

When Cody Jamieson was 10, his family - including his mother, Michelle, his sister, Casie, and his older brother, Cole Jr. - moved from nearby Hamilton into a two-storey house owned by Mr. Jamieson's grandfather. The house is on what is known as the "white side" of Indian Line Road, facing into the reserve. The distinction illustrates local tensions, which exploded four summers ago in a dispute between Six Nations activists and non-native residents over land in the town of Caledonia.

For Cody, the move was ideal. All his friends and relatives lived close by. Everyone shared his zeal for lacrosse, instilled in him as a toddler.

The game was also a spiritual outlet. When his cousin and best friend died in a car accident, it was the game that helped him heal. "It's used as a medicine in the traditional way," he says. "It's about having your mind right, and having a clear state of mind."

The path

Cam Bomberry was among the first Six Nations stars to use lacrosse to leap from the rez into a U.S. college. He played lacrosse at a two-year junior college in New York State in the early 1990s, after contacting schools himself. Mr. Bomberry, 38, says recruiters are now looking to Canada, but the NCAA's academic standards mean that most Six Nations players go to junior colleges to improve their grades before trying to break into Division I lacrosse.

That was Mr. Jamieson's plan when he headed with Arrows teammates Craig Point and Kent Squire-Hill to Onondaga Community College, near Syracuse University. Mr. Jamieson - eventually named the top athlete in junior college - quickly caught the attention of SU head coach John Desko.

Mr. Jamieson and Mr. SquireHill were both being groomed to join Syracuse for the 2009 season when Mr. Squire-Hill was charged with second-degree murder in the death of his pregnant girlfriend, who had gone missing from the Six Nations reserve. (The case has yet to go to court.)

Devastated, Mr. Jamieson returned home to regroup. But he realized, "I wanted a four-year degree, not just a two." He knew kids hung around Iroquois Arena, quietly idolizing him the same way he idolized his older cousin, Delby Powless Jr., an Arrows teammate who had made the leap to Rutgers University and Division I lacrosse.

"There's a lot of young kids who are watching your every move around here," Mr. Powless Jr. says. "That's a pretty big thing to go away and get your education."

In the summer and fall of 2008, Mr. Jamieson completed the courses he thought he needed to head to Syracuse University. NCAA officials disagreed, the school wrangled and finally, in the second-last game of the 2009 regular season, he got to play. "There were extremely high expectations - more media - and here's a guy that hasn't played Div. I lacrosse yet," Mr. Desko says.

Mr. Jamieson responded by scoring eight goals in the six games - four in the post-season - he played for Syracuse, including an overtime winner in the championship final.

Back home at Hagersville High School on the outskirts of the reserve, students were watching on a jumbo screen.

Going pro

On a recent sunny morning, Mr. Jamieson settles into a seat in the sprawling Syracuse athletic complex. This is a rare day off from his team's push for a third straight national title (playoffs begin on May 15), and his mind is on the future.

He will need another semester to graduate, and he plans to use his communications degree to help with the Iroquois Lacrosse Program for aboriginal youth run by Mr. Bomberry. He wants more kids to follow him to Division I schools - for four years.

"I'll try and help them so they don't have to go through the same struggles that I did."

For now, he is weighing more immediate options. He might hop in his Chevy Silverado and drive 20 minutes south to Onondaga, a native-American territory he visits when he misses the closeness of the rez."There's a medicine game going on at 5," he says. "It's just a traditional game. No plastic sticks. They play the men against the boys … where you give thanks to the Creator and just play for him. And you just ask for health … health for the community.

 

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