March 9, 2013

New England Greatest Players: #8 Jamie Hanford

By Phil Shore

Jamie Hanford

Position: Defender/faceoff man | Hometown: Darien, Conn.

High School/highlights: At Darien High School, he was All-FCIAC in 1992, 1993 and 1994. In 1994, he was named All-State, All-American and Connecticut High School Player of the Year, and was Most Valuable Player of the Connecticut High School Lacrosse Coaches North-South All Star Game.

College/highlights: All-American for Loyola University in 1996, 1997 and 1998. In 1998, he also was the NCAA Division 1 Faceoff Man of the Year for the Greyhounds’ Final Four team.

Pro/ National Lacrosse League highlights: 12-year professional box lacrosse career, including stops in Colorado, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and Rochester; all-time NLL leader in faceoff wins (2,091), two-time NLL All-Star; Colorado Mammoth All-Decade team for the 2000s.

In the 2010 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Lacrosse Championship game, a long-pole from Connecticut won the opening faceoff of overtime and scored the game-winning goal.

It was a moment that put Duke sophomore C.J. Costabile, a New Fairfield, Conn., native, on the map.

Yet 15 years before Costabile’s shining moment, there was another long-pole from Connecticut playing in the NCAA that started the evolution of a long-pole taking faceoffs.

Meet Jamie Hanford.

“For me, I wanted to be noticed, I wanted to be a difference-maker. What I did in the field game and facing off and going back and playing ‘D,’ I wasn’t doing the normal position,” said Hanford, who was inducted into the Connecticut Lacrosse Hall of Fame last year. “I was creating my own situation. I was trying to be an innovator of the game. I created this own little position.”

Hanford was born in California but moved to Darien, Conn., at 5 years old. He lived there until he was in sixth grade, when his father’s job forced the family to briefly move back to Los Angeles for two years before returning to Darien for Jamie’s freshman year of high school.

Things in the sporting landscape in Darien had changed when Hanford came back, however.

“Lacrosse (in Darien) started when I moved out of town,” he said. “Everyone had played, but I hadn’t. Football and hockey were my sports. After my hockey season, I went to the (lacrosse) head coach and said I was going to focus on hockey and he looked at me like I quit something I never played.”

Ultimately, Hanford couldn’t resist the allure of the sport. He played midfield as a freshman and switched to defense as a sophomore. Facing off didn’t come about until the end of his junior year.

“We had a great senior faceoff guy,” Hanford recalled. “One day we were doing wind sprints and coach had me faceoff against him and the winner didn’t have to do wind sprints. I won … and then the next year we literally had no one to take faceoffs.”

To this day, it’s still unique to see a long-pole facing off. Hanford sees it differently.

“I felt it was an advantage. I thought I could push it further and get on a break and if I lost I could play defense right there,” he said. “I wasn’t a FOGO (a player who faces off, then gets off the field). I faced off and went back and played close ‘D.’”

At Darien, Hanford earned Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference all-league honors three times, and was named All-State, All-American and Connecticut High School Player of the Year his senior season. It wasn’t until the state All-Star game that he realized he was a special player.

“I think I knew I could play at the next level after I graduated high school and went to the North-South game,” he said. “Then is when I knew I could separate from other people at the next level. I got MVP. I won 25 of 26 faceoffs.”

Hanford’s success and versatility caught the eye of legendary lacrosse coach Dave Cottle, then the coach at Loyola.

“Lacrosse was very important to Jamie. He played the game as an aggressive and hungry kid,” said Cottle, now coach of the Chesapeake Bayhawks, the current Major League Lacrosse champs. “I watched him play in high school, and his personality dominated the field. If he could’ve gone pro when he first got out of high school, he would’ve.”

In college, Hanford had the dual responsibility of taking faceoffs and guarding the opposition’s best attackman.

“One of the best games he played was when we played Delaware and he shut down John Grant Jr. He shut him out,” Cottle said. “Jamie was particularly painful for left-handers. … He checked so hard.”

In his four years at Loyola, the Greyhounds made the NCAA tournament every season, reaching the semifinals his senior year. Hanford was an All-American three times, making the first team his senior season.

Hanford joined Major League Lacrosse in its inaugural season and played for six years. He spent the majority of two seasons with the Bridgeport Barrage and finished his MLL career in 2006 with the Boston Cannons. He was a three-time MLL All-Star and won an MLL championship in 2002 with the Bayhawks.

“I was really excited to play in Bridgeport when the Barrage was around,” he said. “It was a cool little venue. We got a decent crowd. It was a lot of fun playing there.”

He made an even bigger impact in the indoor game, however, most notably in five seasons with the Colorado Mammoth.

“I fell in love with the speed and the physicality,” Hanford said of box lacrosse. “There’s no place in the world better to play in than Denver — 18,000 fans, they thrive on it, they love it. It is electric.”

Hanford was a two-time NLL champion, a two-time NLL All-Star and played for the 2002 USA Heritage Cup team. With Colorado, Hanford won 64 percent of his draws and was named to the franchise’s All-Decade team.

He is the league’s all-time leader in faceoffs won (2,091). In a league where the record books are dominated by Canadians who grew up on the indoor game, Hanford is one of the few Americans to have made an all-time impact.

Hanford’s NLL success is even more impressive because he couldn’t play with a long-pole like in his field lacrosse career. Hanford relished the challenge, however.

“That’s what made me play it for so long. It was something different,” he said. “It made me want to learn to love it and master it.”

Cottle wasn’t surprised by the success Hanford saw in the NLL.

“Jamie is one of the best lacrosse players I ever coached,” Cottle said. “Jamie was going to be a tremendous player. That’s a compliment to him that he could adapt himself to play in three different leagues (the two pro leagues and the NCAA).”

Hanford lives back in Darien now and stays involved in lacrosse. He founded Force 5 Lacrosse, offering clinics, camps and fall leagues. It also provides college recruiting assistance, helping families determine how to best match a player’s skill level, athleticism and academic interest with potential colleges, and helping the player decide the events to attend and participate in to reach his goals. The company has gotten involved in selling apparel, and Hanford hopes to dive into the equipment industry in the near-future as well.

Hanford says Darien is and always has been his home. He’s thrilled to see the growth of the game.

“The lacrosse scene now has exploded since I played. The high school has nine state championships,” he said. “I can’t believe it. It’s been 15 or 20 years, but it’s completely the opposite from when I grew up. It’s good to see.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of New England Lacrosse Journal.