The average number of seniors on each roster across the NCAA Division I 73 men's lacrosse programs this spring is nine. There are 44 teams with nine or more seniors on their 2019 roster.
Seniors are important. They understand the expectation of representing their program, their university, and, most importantly, themselves in a way that brings pride to the name across the front of their chest come game day.
Being a Division I college athlete isn't a walk in the park, by any means. It's not for everyone. And, as a result, sometimes those last-year groups aren't as big as they were in the beginning stages.
This spring, Saint Joseph's fields a roster with the smallest senior class among all Division I programs that did not start up within the last three seasons.
But if we're looking at what matters on the youngest team during eighth-year head coach Taylor Wray's tenure - a leadership presence that has bought into the culture of the Hawk Hill way - it really doesn't matter that there are only two seniors in the Class of 2019 to guide a roster comprised of 85% freshmen and sophomores.
Senior midfielder Thomas LaRose and senior close defenseman Thomas Tarleton are more than enough.
Thomas Tarleton (28) and Thomas LaRose (40) on 2019 Photo Day
Their story, however, didn't start with just them.
LaRose and Tarleton came to Hawk Hill as part of Wray's 13-member class in the fall of 2015, a class sprinkled with U.S. Lacrosse High School All-American selections and chocked full of All-State-caliber performers.
LaRose was a Non-Public All-State Second Team and Fitch-Pitt Conference First Team midfield selection at Seton Hall Prep (N.J.) back in 2015 after leading the Pirates to a 15-win season. Over his high school career, the Cranford, New Jersey native was a two-time All-Essex County pick and led SHP to three consecutive county titles, two state semi-finals, and the 2013 state title game.
Thomas LaRose (27) prepares to fire off a shot during a high school game with Seton Hall Prep
Tarleton was a 2015 All-State and All-Division First Team defenseman and All-County Second Team pick at Ridewood High School (N.J.), where he led the Maroons to the Group 3 title as a senior.
Ridgewood, N.J. native Thomas Tarleton (3) defends during a high school game with Ridgewood
The 13 newest Hawks came in as all rookies do: hungry to make a difference but not fully knowing what to expect.
Thomas LaRose (circled, in back) and Thomas Tarleton (circled, in front) came in as part of a 13-member class in Fall '15.
By the fall of 2016, the freshman-turned-sophomore class dropped down to seven.
And by fall of 2017, there were two still standing tall.
Thomas LaRose (40) and Thomas Tarleton (28) on 2018 Photo Day
So... what kept them around?
"The whole team dynamic," said Tarleton. "It was really, really tough seeing our best friends leave the team. We still hang out with them every single day, but at the end of the day, there are a bunch of other friends that we now have. They're so supportive of us, and they made sure when those other kids were dropping out that they had our back. Coach Wray was always checking up on us. It kind of sounds nice to be that everyday, college kid, but it's nice to embrace that role of being a college athlete on a team. Not every day is fun, but it's life. It teaches you so many life lessons."
"The locker room," added LaRose. "Who was still there . . . I didn't want to leave the team. The drive to win the NEC, it was always in the back of my head and I never wanted to let that go. I always wanted to stay around and be a part of it."
And now, after waiting their turn, they are presented with a unique opportunity to lead the Crimson and Gray as fourth-year players.
Tarleton made five appearances over his first three seasons, missing his sophomore campaign due to injury. He has worked his way into a starting spot as a close defenseman come Opening Day and will serve as one of four captains of the Crimson and Gray this spring.
"Being the only two [seniors] definitely gives you an opportunity for a lot of underclassmen to look up to you," said Tarleton. "Going into the season, LaRose and I knew we had to step up to the plate. Last year, the 12 seniors held a lot of that leadership role, so we didn't have to do too much with it. This year, we definitely took that role. It's pretty cool having those underclassmen look up to you. When things are down, they're not looking to anyone else but you. So it's definitely an opportunity for us to lead an entire team of 39 guys, and we're really embracing the role."
Thomas Tarleton (28) goes for a ground ball in pregame against Mount St. Mary's on April 21 of last season
LaRose has played in 15 career games over his first three seasons as the next in line to SSDM-great Davis Stoner '18. He hit the back of the net to explosive cheers from his teammates in the Hawks' preseason scrimmage against #13 Lehigh two weekends back.
"We're both lucky to have been able to play under elite leaders that were just some of the best leaders to ever play in this program," added LaRose. "I just want to bring our experiences as underclassmen to help them get through freshman and sophomore year and get them to where they need to be."
Thomas LaRose (40) drives toward goal against St. John's on March 6 of last season
The aforementioned 12-member Class of 2018 was one for which words won't do justice. They were selfless. They were hardworking. They were talented.
And they did one of the most important things they could have done on any level; they left an impact on the pair expected to lead in their wake.
"Mike Rastivo '18, Will McNamara '18, and Davis Stoner '18 were three guys that really stuck out to me," said LaRose when asked of his mentors. "As a defensive middie, I was the back-up to Davis and Will Mac. Being in front of me, those guys were such good teachers and leaders and were so encouraging to me. Mike as a whole was just one of the best leaders I've ever had the opportunity to play under."
"LaRose is an inspiring teammate through his presence, focus, work ethic, and determination to get the job done," said McNamara, who in just one year as a graduate student for SJU emerged as a leader. "As my lifting partner last year, he would push me to improve on each rep. His encouragement and accountability in the weight room is no doubt great for this younger SJU team, and his selflessness is unmatched. Last year to help us prepare for opponents, LaRose would run scout team. As one of the better athletes, he’d take an absolute beating to help simulate game situations, wouldn’t complain, got back up, and always kept going at it. I was lucky to have the opportunity to play with him."
"Tom and I are very similar, so naturally we became great friends almost immediately during his freshman year," said Stoner, who played in 57 career games for SJU. "He’s a very fun guy to be around. As SSDMs, we competed for the same position almost every day of my last three years as a Hawk. Even though we were technically competing with each other, he was easily one of my biggest supporters and best friend to spend time with at practice."
Those two are no-brainers in terms of leaders. McNamara and Stoner combined for a transition game that stood among the best in the country last year.
And Rastivo? The come-back kid whose humble attitude and gritty work ethic had the entirety of the Sweeney Field stands chanting "Mike-Rah-Steve-Oh" when he broke the program's goal-scoring record against Bryant last spring? Good pick for LaRose.
But what's even more telling is Rastivo's response.
"LaRose is a perfect representation of what it means to play Saint Joseph’s lacrosse," said the former three-year captain. "He is not only a leader by example, but a guy that brings contagious energy and effort every day. He is the kind of player that will do whatever he is asked of to make the team better. During my time on the team, he embraced any role the coaches put him in. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Tom because he has worked so hard to contribute on both sides of the ball. I distinctly remember him as one of the most competitive guys I played with, including conditioning and in the weight room."
Tarleton also found a leadership mentor in that Class of 2018.
"A big leader that stuck out to me was Chris Blewitt," said Tarleton. "He never got too high and never got too low. He always kept the team at ease, and he knew when to step up and knew when to let everyone be. But for me personally, I learned a lot of leadership skills from him, and I definitely admire him."
"I have all the respect in the world for Tarelton," said Blewitt, who captained the 2018 team alongside Rastivo. "Year after year, he has watched fellow classmates, most being close friends, leave the team, and yet he and LaRose stayed true to the team. On top of that, Tarelton has battled multiple injuries that forced him to support the team in much less glamorous role at times but continued to do everything he could to contribute. Having a teammate that displayed that level of commitment and loyalty to the program made showing up every day even more worth it. I’ve gone up against Thomas in practice a lot over the years and became a better player from it."
Thomas Tarleton (28) congratulates Pat Dallon '18 (6) following a win. "I was always so close with Pat in the locker room and at practice with him," said Tarleton.
Every player on the team has a responsibility to maintain the culture that Wray and Co. put into place back in 2011. The seniors welcome the ability to anchor this influence.
"The culture here has stayed consistent in the fact that I believe that we are always one of the hardest-working programs in the country," said LaRose. "We bring it every day in practice and in the fall, we're always lifting we're always running together. Everyone has the same mindset of being the best team we can be, and I believe it's the hard work that Coach Wray has brought to this program."
"Over the years, the team gets closer and closer," added Tarleton. "One word that describes the entire team is family. Last year was kind of a turning point for how close our team can get from the seniors to the freshmen. The older guys really took it into their own hands to make sure the freshmen were feeling comfortable and everything. [Current sophomore goalkeeper captain] Mike Adler, he's one kid that stands out to me. He's always trying to talk to the freshmen and always trying to make sure that they're doing well. All the older guys take that initiative to make sure everyone's all good and no one's feeling out of it and everyone's together."
The Thomas(es) want the younger players to recognize this for what it is - an opportunity, but an opportunity that does eventually end.
"[Time on Hawk Hill] goes by way too fast, and it's such a learning point in your life," said Tarleton. "You really need to not take it for granted. It's a really great opportunity that you have."
"Take it slow and take it one day at a time," added LaRose. "It really does go fast and, in the end, it's all going to be worth it."
The average number of seniors across NCAA Division I's 73 men's lacrosse programs this spring is nine.
But the Hawks aren't average.
You have one guy in LaRose who wants to leave behind a legacy of knowing that he showed up to practice every day, gave his best, encouraged his teammates, and never took a practice off.
"Tom was always one of the hardest working kids on the team," said Davis Stoner '18. "He showed up every day with a positive attitude and put maximum effort into everything."
You have another guy in Tarleton who wants people to remember him as the player who left it all out there and both enjoyed and embraced every second of the demands of Coach Wray's program.
"He stayed true to the team," said Chris Blewitt '18. "I am excited for him to step into a leadership role this year."
Those are their intended legacies. Not goal-scoring records. Not individual fame. Not more minutes on the field than anyone else.
Nah. The Hawks don't have your average senior class this year.
They're well above with these two.
All posed/action photos with exception of high school photos shot by Sideline Photos, LLC. High school photos provided by Thomas LaRose and Thomas Tarleton.