The origins of Nat St. Laurent’s passion for the sport of lacrosse stretch all the way back to the playing fields in Carthage.
After taking up lacrosse at a young age, St. Laurent has excelled at the sport he loves ever since, as a player and now as both a college and professional coach.
A Carthage graduate and inspired by Kirk Ventiquattro, the former longtime boys lacrosse coach at the school, St. Laurent went on to play college lacrosse and after founding the Northern Ohio University lacrosse program, has coached professionally in the Major Lacrosse League and Premier Lacrosse League since.
“Just the amount of pride that I have being from Carthage,” St. Laurent said. “We stick together just because there’s so much pride coming from Carthage, I miss home, I miss my family, I miss friends I grew up with. So I’m so excited for the sport of lacrosse that kind of helped me travel the world like I have been and my experiences, so just very proud to be from Carthage.”
Yet there was one moment as a youngster when St. Laurent, who considers himself an African American, felt different, an experience that nearly made him quit lacrosse permanently.
St. Laurent brought up this memory recently in a U.S. Lacrosse Magazine article and in a podcast, a recollection he chose to share once again with the Times.
“I never would have thought about it back in the day in Carthage, especially when I almost quit the game because I was told something when I was young,” he said. “It was right before I could start playing modified lacrosse, I think I was probably in fifth or six grade. I was told when I was starting to like the game and starting to play lacrosse, by an older player on the varsity team out there, that ‘black people don’t play this game, stick to basketball and football.’ That was tough.”
That memory hit home recently for St. Laurent in the wake of racial unrest in the United States following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25.
But the experience only temporarily deterred St. Laurent from playing lacrosse, as he went on to star in the sport at Carthage, while playing football and basketball as well.
“I really loved the sport and to have somebody tell you that at a young age, it was tough, it was tough to deal with,” St. Laurent, now 40, said. “But coach Ventiquattro, I never really told him what happened, because I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. But he just kept bringing up the game and allowed me to be around it and I just loved it so much.
“And people like Jason Coffman and the Coffman family, and Casey Powell and those guys, they were just really great and inspired me and encouraged me.”
St. Laurent, who is son to a black father and a white mother, continued:
“It’s something to know that I’m able to give back to this game and make it a little bit better, because I know that the game really helped me kind of grow as a person and pursue goals,” he said. “And again, it goes all the way back to coach Ventiquattro introducing me to the sport in third grade. But it’s been pretty special to be one of the very few-and-only African American coaches, and to be able to be a coach in professional lacrosse.
“It really made me realize that if you work hard enough, you can get to where you want to be and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for some awesome people along the way.”
Now St. Laurent has taken on an even larger role as he was asked earlier this month to chair the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association’s Diversity Committee, which encompasses the Division I, II and III ranks in the sport.
“I’m in the process of doing that right now and working with some big-time Division I, II and III coaches and trying to do our part as a sport to grow the game and make it more affordable and able to be played in other places and get away from the stereotypes that go along with it,” he said.
His new duties with the committee included hosting a diversity-and-inclusion roundtable on Tuesday, which included pro players Kyle Harrison and Myles Jones, who are both African American, and Jules Heninburg. St. Laurent coached Harrison and Heninburg last year while with the PLL’s Redwoods last season, and all three will play for the team this year.
“Our sport needs to continue to develop and our sport needs to continue to grow with diversity, and be far more inclusive for people socioeconomically and different racial backgrounds and things of that nature,” St. Laurent said. “So I really feel like what I’m doing, I’ve had so many people reach out, so many coaches and presidents at universities and different places reach out and thank me for what we’re doing. It’s starting to give me more hope that if I make a decision to step up and speak out against it and try to teach the right thing; and support the right movements and be part of the solution and not the problem, then everybody else can, too.”
St. Laurent also posted a video in which he challenges his fellow lacrosse coaches to think about how they feel about race.
“There was a tweet out with a video I put out challenging the coaches, ‘Practice What You Preach’ is what it was titled,” St. Laurent said. “That kind of got everybody moving and it sounds like I’ll be working with some really good coaches and I’m excited to be working with some big-time college football coaches as well in developing some things. So there’s a lot in the works with that which we’re really excited about.”
St. Laurent hopes the committee can also promote the growth of lacrosse at the youth level as well as convey the history of the game, which was invented by Native Americans, dating back to the 17th century.
“We’re going to be looking at things, such as player involvement and how to get more kids from socioeconomic backgrounds that might not be able to afford it, white or black, it doesn’t matter,” St. Laurent said. “How to increase those programs so those kids can play this game because there are so many opportunities. We’re also really going to focus on bringing back the focus and emphasis of the Native American influence on our sport, so we can’t get away from those roots, so we want to make sure we’re supporting that.”
After playing collegiately at Keuka College, St. Laurent joined the college coaching ranks as an assistant at both Washington and Lee and Virginia Military Institute in Virginia and as a high school coach in Ferrum, Va.
St. Laurent, who also served in the U.S. Army Reserves, went on to found the lacrosse program at Ohio Northern, with its first season in 2016, the same university former Carthage football coach Terry Coffman, who coached St. Laurent, attended back in the day.
While at Carthage, St. Laurent was inspired by Ventiquattro to reach even greater heights in lacrosse.
“Coach Ventiquattro is my everything, he’s my world,” St. Laurent said. “He’s the only reason why I’m playing lacrosse, he’s the reason why I’m where I’m at in my life, I’ve known a lot of great people. But he introduced the sport to me and he really challenged us, taught us kind of how to do things and he was very big on discipline and doing all the little things right, and that’s something I still harp on today.
“That’s something that goes all the way back for being a ball boy for coach Ventiquattro, and be around the sport before I was able to play it.”
St. Laurent played football for the Comets when they won a Section 3 title in 1997. St. Laurent also played lacrosse with Mike Powell, who went on to play the sport at Syracuse University, as did Coffman.
“It’s small-town USA, so there’s a lot of pride,” St. Laurent said of Carthage. “Actually, Casey Powell is out here in Chicago, so he and I have been in contact and in touch, and he’s coaching a really, really good travel team there and we’ll recruit some of his players. So it’s been really fun, the bond we’ve been able to build with the Carthage roots.”
St. Laurent is also proud of his career in the Army Reserves, which spanned 13 years, during which he served in a training unit, which trained units before they deployed as well as ROTC students.
“That was really important,” St. Laurent said. “I mean 13 years in the Army Reserves, I felt really compelled to join after 9/11 and between my time in the military and my experience teaching special education, it allowed me to kind of develop a coaching philosophy. It culminates to different learning styles and incorporating discipline and attention to detail, which our program and my teams takes a lot of pride in.”
Ohio Northern’s season was cut short when the NCAA canceled the spring sports season in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the Polar Bears off to a 4-2 start.
“It’s been really tough,” St. Laurent said. “It’s been rough in a lot of ways, but we have really been able as coaches use it for a positive. Like develop a new way to communicate and spend a lot of time for our families, which you don’t usually get as a coach.”
Under St. Laurent, Ohio Northern, which competes in the Ohio Athletic Conference, reached its first conference championship game in lacrosse in 2019, a year after guiding the Polar Bears to their first regular-season OAC title.
“We have been labeled as the up-and-coming program in college lacrosse,” St. Laurent said. “So this we thought was going a breakout year for us ... But on a positive note, we’ve got half our senior class coming back next year as the NCAA granted them an extra year of eligibility. This includes our program’s leading scorer and we’ve got arguably our best recruiting class ever coming in, so we feel like we’re in a really good spot.”
St. Laurent also coaches the Redwoods of the PLL, leading the team to the league final last September, where it was edged by the Whipsnakes, 12-11, in overtime, in the championship game in Philadelphia, in the league’s inaugural season.
“That’s a blast, that’s so much fun,” St. Laurent said. “Those guys are so good and the pace of the game is so fast and so competitive. To be 90 seconds away from winning that championship, I have a championship in the other league I used to coach in, the MLL. And now to go to this league and be so close, it was heartbreaking to lose the game, but gosh, it was so much fun to be on NBC Sports and to inspire and motivate young people to play this game and then to be able to work alongside of the greatest to ever play it, it’s been amazing.”
Previously, St. Laurent coached the Ohio Machine of the MLL, as an assistant for four seasons.
St. Laurent takes pride having the opportunity to contribute to the game of lacrosse at many different levels.
“I just get so frustrated, because it’s a great game, you don’t have to be the biggest, strongest, fastest guy to have an impact, everybody has an impact,” St. Laurent said. “It’s just so fun, so I’m just real sensitive to it and people have to know the history of the game so we can move forward, honor it, accept it and grow. And I think as a country, we have not done a good job learning from previous racial injustices and situations that have happened in our country.”
St. Laurent lives in Ohio with his wife Cristin and their two daughters Jaylin and Janessa, and son Jamarcus.
“If we can find a way to open up our hearts a little bit and make it more of a priority in our life to get better and take the time to get to know people in different walks of life, then it will become personal. And when things happen to people we care about, we can take it and make it an issue.
“So I think that’s just kind of the thing going in our sport right now and what we’re trying to do, and I think our country could use that same lesson.”