OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. — Two weeks into his Division II men's lacrosse career, junior LeRoy Halftown already has a significant achievement on his résumé. Halftown produced seven goals against the District of Columbia on Saturday, the most in a single game by an NYIT player in four years, and three shy of matching the school record shared by Pete Doyen (1995) and Joel Cocarel (2001).
No understatement, the 22-year-old Halftown was born for such moments. A proud member of the Seneca Nation, one of six Native American nations that form the Iroquois Confederacy, Halftown started playing box lacrosse, also known as indoor lacrosse, at two years old.
"The Iroquois created the game," Halftown said. "When we're born, we're given a traditional wooden lacrosse stick. Ever since we're born, we're always around the game of lacrosse. There are talented players on the reservation who don't make the choice to go to the collegiate lacrosse game, but they're just as good lacrosse players. It's in our heritage and in our blood to know the game and know the reason why we're playing. We play for the meaning of our Creator. It's more than just a game. It's more like a way of life. We play the game we know our ancestors played. When we play, we hold onto the sacredness as well."
Halftown wants his collegiate lacrosse career to serve as an inspiration. He was raised on the Cattaraugus Reservation that spans roughly 2,000 acres in western New York, near the Pennsylvania border.
"There are not a lot of Native American kids who go to school and excel in college lacrosse," he said. "So our message as those who excel in lacrosse is that it's OK to go out and get off the reservation and play at the level you want to and still hold onto your traditional values.
"Poverty, alcoholism, drugs and all that has an effect with a lot of athletes on the reservation, which limits them from these experiences and opportunities. I made a lot of choices, said no to a lot of things, which allowed me to have this opportunity to show the younger generation that it is possible and it's totally OK to say no to those other things. I'm trying to create a stepping stone for the younger generation to do the same."
Halftown notes he is not the first down this path. Jeremy Thompson (Saskatchewan Rush) and Jerome Thompson (Georgia Swarm) from Onondaga Nation as well as Cody Jamieson (Rochester Knighthawks/New York Lizards) from Six Nations Reservation are now professional lacrosse players with Native American heritage who took the near-identical route. IroquoisNation.org compiled this list of four dozen Native Americans playing college lacrosse across all levels — Division I to junior college — during the 2015 season.
"They created the stepping stone for my generation," Halftown said. "I'm not the only one to do this or have this message. I'm a follower as well to those guys."
Halftown began his collegiate career at Monroe Community College. The fall semester of his second year on that campus, he tore the ACL in a knee. He sat out the spring season, watching from the sidelines, then enrolled the next fall at Onondoga Community College, which had a deeper roster of players with a similar skill level to his own. It proved a more manageable workload on the field than at MCC, where he was counted on to be the ball carrier, the dodger and the goal scorer. Transferring to Onondoga had the added benefit of being only 40 minutes from his father's home on the Cayuga Reservation.
"It's not really populated, but most every boy is born to play lacrosse," Halftown, who won an NJCAA Region III championship at OCC, said about his own home reservation. "The transition between Monroe and Onondoga was a good step for me because the workload and carrying the load of the team was less strenuous. It worked out both ways — on the lacrosse field and home-wise and living-wise."
Halftown primarily played box lacrosse before college, including at the Canadian junior level. In his lone season playing field lacrosse, as a junior at Mynderse Academy, he led the prep team in scoring.
"It's a little faster and a little more instinctive," Halftown said, contrasting indoor lacrosse with the outdoor game. "Field lacrosse, it can be kind of boring, passing it around the outside and waiting for somebody to attack the net. In box lacrosse, where I grew up, we always played a run-and-gun style where we pushed the ball up, almost like how basketball would be. You're looking for your odd-man breaks and you're pushing the ball to the net as fast as possible instead of letting the defense set up.
"The whole instinct style of play has always been in my blood and always been my style of play. The transition from box lacrosse to field lacrosse, it's like, 'Oh, wow, I have this big open space. And the nets are bigger.' It just makes it that much easier for me."
Through five games with the Bears, Halftown has 13 goals, six assists and eight ground balls. He said a strategy tweak against UDC, which allowed him to shoot more on the inside, helped spur the seven-goal barrage in a 25-4 win as NYIT rebounded from a midweek loss at Pace.
Fueled by his success at OCC, Halftown said he had a lot of scholarship opportunities. After researching academic departments on the internet, he selected NYIT because of its graphic-design program. Halftown aspires to be a web designer for smaller, privately owned companies. He also wants to manage social-media pages.
"I never even visited here until the first day [of classes] here," Halftown said. "It was a tough choice for me to make. Obviously not visiting and only talking to the coaches over the phone was kind of challenging. But I took my gut instinct and I chose NYIT based on the program research that I did and the relationship I had with the coaches. The coaches were more friend-based conversations compared with the other schools I was talking to that had the regular recruit talk — 'Oh, our school does this, our school does that.'
"I talked to Coach [Bill] Dunn and Coach Karl [Hedstrom], and I became friends with them before they became coaches of mine."