When John Grant Jr. came out of retirement to sign with the Denver Outlaws prior to the 2019 season — two years removed from the game and with a left knee that still needed replacing — there were questions about the lacrosse legend’s ability to still compete at a high level.
“I will admit that I was a little skeptical last year.” Outlaws president Matt Bocklet said. “But I will never question him again — he’s proven that his creativity in the game continues to grow, even if he’s not as physically capable of doing the things he did when he first started playing pro lacrosse 20 years ago.”
Those doubts — of which Grant Jr. admitted he initially had as well — dissipated quickly once he got on the field. In 14 games a year ago, the attackman accumulated 18 assists and 21 goals while breaking the all-time Major League Lacrosse scoring record and helping lead the Outlaws to their fourth consecutive championship appearance.
“Last year, we weren’t sure what I was going to be able to give, and it turns out I was able to give quite a bit even despite missing four games (due to the knee),” Grant Jr. said. “Being in the top three in scoring on our team was probably better than anyone expected, including myself, so we’ll see if we have any magic left here this year.”
Grant Jr., 45, is back with the Outlaws in 2020 for what is “for sure” his final season. He acknowledges his mobility is waning. In addition, he recently accepted a position as the new offensive coordinator at Johns Hopkins University.
The league’s longest-tenured player will again be a player/coach as Denver’s offensive coordinator for a franchise that has a championship-or-bust mindset every summer. The Outlaws have made an MLL-best nine title showings, winning three. To get back to the title again this year — with a regular season condensed from the usual dozen games and likely to start sometime in late July — Grant Jr. will change his strategy.
“Whether I’m playing a little more off-ball, or just placing myself on different spots of the field to be more of a feeder than a scorer, I’m focused on helping facilitate the offense as opposed to finishing goals all the time like I used to do,” Grant. Jr. said. “That’s our offensive plan.”
Around Grant Jr., Bocklet said the Outlaws have the “strongest attack in the league” with second-year players Ryan Lee (team-leading 38 goals last year), Chris Aslanian and Dan Bucaro expected to be leaders.
Bucaro, a 2019 first-round pick out of Georgetown, missed all of last season with a knee injury. Bocklet said he’s fully healthy now and anticipates Bucaro to help Grant Jr. and the Outlaws offense settle in quickly.
“The biggest thing for us is finding chemistry right away,” Bocklet said. “With a shorter season, pretty much every game becomes a playoff game, so finding our rhythm early is critical.”
Bocklet, Denver’s all-time leader in games played and also the head coach at Cherry Creek, is in his first season as president after serving as an assistant coach last year. He said the franchise’s players have long taken it upon themselves to bear the responsibilities and ego-checks that maintaining a championship-level franchise requires. Last season, the Outlaws lost 10-9 in the title game to the Chesapeake Bayhawks.
“It starts in the locker room,” Bocklet said. “Outlaws players have always known that no individual is more important than the team. It’s always been that way no matter what kind of talent we have. That’s why we consistently have the playoff success that we do.”
Outlaws To Know In 2020
Offense: John Grant Jr., Ryan Lee, Chris Aslanian, Dan Bucaro
Midfield: Mikie Schlosser, Max Adler (faceoff), Brian Kormondy (Mullen alum), Colton Jackson (Rock Canyon/DU), Charlie Hayes
Goalie: Christian Knight, Nick Washuta (drafted No. 11 overall this year)
Defense: Kyle Pless (Mountain Vista), Michael Rexrode, Andrew Newbold, Sean Mayle (DU)
Head Coach: Tony Seaman
Coordinators: John Grant Jr. (offensive), Ken Clausen (defense)
GM: Jon Cohen