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Lyle Thompson Continues to Make History as an Indigenous Star

Over the weekend, Lyle Thompson made history in the most Lyle Thompson way possible.

Heading into Week 8, Thompson needed two goals to reach 300 in his NLL regular season career. He netted his first of the night in the first quarter and then achieved the rare moment with a series of impromptu moves leading to a highlight-reel finish to secure the significant goal.

With less than three minutes to go in the first half against the Toronto Rock on Saturday night, Thompson found himself in a one-on-one position against Justin Martin. The Onondaga native used some fancy footwork and a beautifully executed swim move to tactfully blast by the rookie defender. Charging to the crease, Thompson leaped high off the ground, used some fancy mid-air stick work, and placed the ball in the back of the net while narrowly avoiding a collision with Nick Rose between the pipes.

The entire sequence was so graceful yet so purposeful. It was so Lyle Thompson. By the night’s end, Lyle was sitting at 301 regular season career goals and had etched his name in the history books – in a few places.

Thompson became:

  • The third Indigenous player in NLL history to reach that mark
  • The 16th player in NLL regular season history to reach 300 regular season goals with one franchise
  • The 38th player overall in NLL history to reach that mark

Georgia and the Swarm are home to Thompson. As far as his NLL career is concerned, he hasn’t played a single game for any other franchise in any other city. Since Thompson made his debut in 2016, there have been many Swarm players and staff that have come and gone, but, many things haven’t changed.

The Arlotta family has owned the team the entire time Thompson has been there. Other prominent pieces to the Swarm puzzle, such as Shayne Jackson and head coach Ed Comeau, have also been with Thompson during his eight-year tenure in the league.

It isn’t lost on Thompson that he is only the second player in franchise history to reach 300 goals – Jackson was the first – and that he is one of less than two dozen players in league history to do it with one franchise. For him, being a member of the Swarm and scoring as many goals (and points) as he can to help his team win has been one of the only things he’s focused on for nearly a decade.

Albany Firewolves at Georgia Swarm 01.13.24 (Photo: Asher Greene)

“It honestly makes me feel lucky that I’ve been put in the situation I’ve been put in, and to have the teammates that I’ve had that allows me to play my game and play creatively,” Thompson said. “From the coaches to the ownership to my teammates, that’s what put me in this situation that I’m in. I don’t think any great players are trying to reach goal marks; that’s just part of being on the great teams you’re a part of.”

Lyle’s achievement is even more impressive because he is only 31 years old while in the middle of his eighth season in the NLL. For comparison, when John Grant Jr., the man with the second-most goals in NLL history, was 31, he had “only” scored 193 goals. And when John Tavares, the NLL’s all-time leading goal scorer in regular season play, was 31, he had recorded 216 goals.

To Cody Jamieson, the second Indigenous player to reach 300 career regular season goals (as of this writing, he has 327 regular season goals at age 36), seeing Thompson hit this mark four years earlier than he did is a humbling experience.

“Big congrats to him,” Jamieson said. “It goes to show how hard he’s worked to hit [the 300-goal milestone] at such a young age. It’s humbling to think that it only took him that long.”

Jamieson added that over the 37 years that the NLL has existed, dozens of Indigenous players have made big statements during their pro careers, even if they never reached 300 goals. He stated that if they had not paved the road over the last three-plus decades, careers like his own or Thompson’s may not have been possible.

“There’s been a lot of Native players that have come through the NLL, even before me,” Jamieson said. “Right from the beginning, there was Darris Kilgour, Cam Bomberry, Cory Bomberry, Delby Powless, Roger Vyse, Brett Bucktooth – there were a lot of guys who paved the path for the Native youth looking up to them. They showed us what’s possible.”

The number of Indigenous players in the NLL has increased in every year of the league’s existence. This year, more than three dozen Indigenous players were on an Active Roster coming into opening day. That number wasn’t as high 20 to 30 years ago. As Thompson was inching towards this career-defining milestone, Jamieson felt hopeful for the future of Indigenous goal scorers.

“For Shattler to be the first, then me, and now Lyle, it’s kind of amazing that our list is so small,” Jamieson said. “But, moving forward, there’s a lot of young, talented Haudenosaunee players that I know of, so hopefully, we will see many more added to the list in the coming years.”

In 2019, Jeff Shattler became the first Indigenous player in NLL history to hit 300 regular season goals. Jamieson reached the mark in late 2022. Shattler noted that there is a clear trend of more Indigenous players excelling in the NLL every year. With the likes of Austin Staats, Tehoka Nanticoke and others on the rise, Shattler has no doubt that the list of Indigenous players who reach 300 regular season goals is going to grow in the near future.

“The game is really evolving and in the right direction,” Shattler said. “I think it’s only going to get better. I think we’ll be a part of history, but I think that all the accolades we won and all the numbers we put up will be history because these kids are coming up, and they’re dominating. It’s pretty impressive, and it’s pretty to watch.”

HAMILTON, ON – January 20th, 2023 – NLL regular season game action between the Georgia Swarm and the Toronto Rock on Saturday, January 20th, 2023 at the FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton, Ontario.
(Christian Bender/NLL)

When Lyle joined the NLL in 2016, he was already a recognizable and elite lacrosse player. Thompson showcased his high-flying, acrobatic skills at the University of Albany on the most prominent collegiate stages. That didn’t change when he joined the NLL – his 300th goal exemplified that.

His style of play has inspired the next generations of lacrosse players to play with creativity and determination. More importantly, he has been a role model for how to play the game with respect. Over the last eight seasons, Thompson has put on a masterclass on how to have a successful professional lacrosse career and how to do it the right way. Lacrosse has given so much to Thompson and his family; now he is giving back to the community in any way he can.

“Obviously, I want to be a role model for the next Indigenous lacrosse players,” Thompson said. “Now that I’m in the position I’m in, I understand the depth of [being a role model] and the importance of it. I was once that kid who looked up to Cody Jamieson, Jeff Shattler, Brett Bucktooth.

“As someone who pays a lot of attention to lacrosse, I pay attention to the details. Paying attention to the way they play, the way they warm up, the way they carry themselves. Now that I’m in a place where I know my moves are making an effect on the next generation, I want to make sure I carry myself with integrity and good morals, and I know I’m showing the next generation how much hard work it takes, how much dedication it takes to be a professional lacrosse player and to continue to compete consistently at a high level.”

The 300-goal mark is just the beginning for Thompson. His primary goal in every game is to go out on the floor and help his team win. Whether scoring goals or passing the ball off to his teammates for them to score, he’ll do whatever it takes for the Swarm to win.

That being said, Thompson is on pace for 51 goals this season – that would be a career-high for him. If you’re a fan of the numbers, or you judge a player’s talents with the eye test, you can tell that Lyle has found ways to continue to be one of the most productive players in the NLL. You might even say that he’s still improving.

As long as he keeps going about his business in the right way, the Lyle Thompson way, it’s difficult to see him slowing down anytime soon. He is rare company now, but by the time he hangs his jersey up and retires, he’ll go down as one of the greatest goal scorers to ever play in the NLL.