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Stories/Op-Ed

For Jesse King, Assisting isn’t just Part of Lacrosse, it’s a Part of Life

The Juan De Fuca and Topaz Park lacrosse boxes of Metro Victoria, British Columbia, are widely unknown to the average lacrosse-watching fans of Canada and the United States. Still, for one of the NLL’s brightest stars, Jesse King, a Victoria-native, likely wouldn’t be the player, or the man, he is today without them.

During the more than 600 days of NLL-less action due to COVID-19, King, a member of the Calgary Roughnecks, remained focused and passionate about his goals of becoming a better lacrosse player and a better leader. It didn’t make it any easier that he was recovering from a collar bone injury – one of his many injuries in his NLL career.

Jesse, and often his brother, teammate and friend, Marshal, made sure to use their newfound time away from their team to pursue those aspirations. One of the few things they could still do because of the restrictions was train at the boxes mentioned above.

“For nearly two years, the only thing we could really do was train,” Jesse King said. “I was training at the gym or at the boxes every day I could and it started becoming this routine where I was training every day even though I never knew when I’d be able to implement everything that I’ve been working on with the guys that I was going to be playing with.”

Regardless of when the games were set to resume, the values learned through the routine of training would become far more valuable to what Jesse and Marshal would need to do outside the world of lacrosse.

In August of 2021, Emily Cox, the partner of Marshal, was diagnosed with high-grade Osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, for the second time. Unfortunately, when the cancer returned, the only way to defeat the disease was to amputate Cox’s entire left leg up to the hip.

It has been a trying time, to say the least, for Emily, her family and Marshal, but they quickly found out how much their friends and their community care for them. As of this writing, Emily’s Go FundMe page has raised $100,000 CAD. That amount of donations is enough to allow Emily to receive one of the best prosthetic legs on the market.

Through these trials and tribulations, Jesse and the rest of the King family have been available to Marshal and Emily whenever they need anything. Jesse has never been far away, whether it was helping to organize fundraisers for Emily, give strong emotional support, or training in the lacrosse boxes.

Emily’s journey has not been an easy one for the Cox or King families, but it has brought them together and taught them how inner strength, perseverance and teamwork can help a person or group endure any challenge.

So, when this year’s Roughnecks training camp finally opened in early November, Jesse was a much different man than the last time he took the floor in December of 2019. His team had also undergone some of its own changes that would reshape the club and place Jesse in the center of the action.

Before this year, Dane Dobbie had helped lead the Roughnecks as both an elite scorer and passer. He led not only with his play, but through his voice and wisdom. Upon his departure from the team this past August, Dobbie sat atop the Roughnecks record books for most goals scored and most assists handed out in franchise history. To date, he still holds both of those records.

As much as the organization is prepared to move on and ultimately excel without Dobbie, the void of such a prolific player is undeniable. Finding ways to generate that level of offensive brilliance is no small feat, but this budding, young, attacking core is trying to find its way.

Curtis Dickson and his Superman-like heroics are still part of the centerpiece of this team’s scoring unit, just as he has been since he stormed onto the league in 2011, but the rest of the offense is not nearly as experienced.

Dickson is playing in his 11th NLL season (all with the Roughnecks), but the other eight forwards have only played a combined 26 years in this league – A good portion of that time was not spent with the Roughnecks. Furthermore, Dickson has played nine full seasons (including the shortened 2019-20 season), while those eight other players have played just three combined full seasons (including the 2019-20 season).

Finding the men who will lead this group in the ways that Dobbie did is a difficult task, but players like Dickson, Jesse and Tyler Pace have pushed themselves out of their comfort zones to fill the vacant leadership roles.

Jesse has not only become more of a vocal leader this season, handing out advice to the younger players, but has led by example by masterfully pushing the ball around the floor. He’s been able to whip the ball to his teammates with such ease this season, that he leads the NLL with 16 assists through Week 5. He’s been so willing to pass the rock off that he only has three goals this year, compared to league leader in points Holden Cattoni who has scored 10 goals.

Roughnecks Head Coach Curt Malawsky is one of many that has been impressed with Jesse’s facilitating of the ball and his all-around effort.

“The ball now goes through Jesse without [Dobbie] being there,” Malawsky said. “He’s good at finding the open guy – he’s a great on-ball guy and a great off-ball guy. He’s super responsible. He’s one of the guys up front that gets back and runs 200 feet and plays good, honest defense.”

Dickson, who has been teammates with Jesse since the 2018-19 season, has been on the receiving end of Jesse’s crafty ball movement more than a few times. As a dynamic scorer, Dickson has been pleased with Jesse’s body of work this season, even if he wants him to shoot more often.

“He’s the floor general,” Dickson said. “Anytime he gets the ball, he’s so smart and knows exactly what to do with it. Personally, I think he should shoot it more because I think he could score a million goals if he wanted to, but that’s the type of player he is; he’s unselfish and always looking for his teammates.”

That unselfishness has helped six of his teammates score this year. It has been a wish of Jesse’s to give back to this team in any way that he can after years of the Roughnecks supporting him through multiple injuries.

Coach Malawsky and the Roughnecks organization have been a part of the support system for Emily and the Kings. Regardless of what the team has asked of Jesse and Marshal, the King brothers have continued to give 110% to their team despite what has been happening in their personal lives.

“I know they have big hearts,” Malawsky said. “They care a lot about their teammates and are the ultimate professionals. They come to the rink all the time and you would have no idea they have so much going on in their personal lives. That’s a testament to who those guys are. It doesn’t go unnoticed by anyone on the coaching staff or in our organization. We’re a team, but we’re also a family, and we are willing to step up for them if they ever need anything.”

In a game that is defined by what you do inside of a box, often it’s how you think outside the box that will get you through the toughest challenges.

For Jesse, his time inside his local lacrosse boxes provided him the space he needed to reach beyond those boundaries of the box to become the best version of who he wanted to be for his teammates and his family.

NLL