Nestled in between a main road in Roswell, Ga. and separated from a more suburban neighborhood by a chunk of trees lies the home to a symbol of growth.
Centennial High School’s football stadium flanks the school on its left, serving as the playing grounds for a sport growing in popularity in the Peach State. No, not football, despite the Knights constantly playing against Alabama commits, but a sport still fighting to emerge from the shadow cast by the gridiron – lacrosse.
Nathan Solomon, a recent graduate of Centennial, will be the first-ever player from Georgia to play in the Under Armour All-American game when he suits up for the South at 8 p.m. tonight in Towson, Md. He’s also the first player from the state to play for national powerhouse Syracuse, according to the school’s athletic site’s records.
And though the south, and Georgia in particular, are still dictated largely in part by the football culture, there’s no denying a sport that has already seen westward growth in the last couple years is now stretching its boundaries into previously uncharted territory.
“It’s almost getting to the point where it could be as big as football in like 10 years,” Solomon said. “And football in the south is a pretty big deal.”
Liam Banks, a former All-American at Syracuse, founded LB3 lacrosse in 2005 as a “small club program outside Philadelphia.” When he moved south eight years ago (LB3 is now based in Atlanta), Banks only saw a glimpse of the trajectory his program, and the sport, could possibly take.
Solomon is one of the 35 graduating members of LB3’s Class of 2015, 32 of which are heading to play college lacrosse. He’s leaving a program that has developed nationally competitive club teams, camps and leagues, establishing seven locations in the southeast and two in Georgia.
“It’s amazing what’s going on in the south right now and the amount of players that are moving on and Nate’s a great example of that,” Banks said. “I think back to eight years ago when I first moved down to the Atlanta area, lacrosse wasn’t where it is now.”
Georgia boasted over 90 high school teams this year, a 40 percent growth rate on the boys’ side, Centennial head coach Bryan Wallace said. Banks added that 24 more high school teams are coming to the state, along with numerous club teams on the rise.
“In the fall, it’s open for kids to play a lot of club but it’s such a football focused state that it’s tough,” Wallace said. “But the growth is starting to come to the kids that are playing multiple sports and seeing that there’s other opportunities for them to continue to play all year round as well.”
It’s not only high schools that are pushing for the game’s expansion in Georgia. The state is adding a professional lacrosse team in 2016, the Georgia Swarm, and top college teams are traveling great lengths to play one game there.
Syracuse now regularly plays St. John’s in the Cobb County Lacrosse Classic in Kennesaw, Ga, and the ACC tournament is moving from Chester, Pa. to Kennesaw as well. Denver and Duke also faced off in the city early in the season.
With coaches expanding their footprint in the south, top prospects from the area in turn see that traditional powers are invested in actually devoting interest to southern lacrosse.
“Kids are definitely going to better schools, more Division I, I mean it’s really just grown a lot,” Solomon said. “It’s a lot of fun, south lacrosse is getting good.”
There will be the stereotypes, Banks rattles off “soft” and “you don’t play anyone,” as common perceptions of players from the state.
But when Solomon steps on the field tonight, he’ll bring a repertoire that includes a flare for the dramatic combined with a precise attention to detail, Wallace said.
It’s a combination that Georgia may need to break even more onto the scene, and the 600-plus point high school scorer will use it to begin trailblazing a path that doesn’t seem to have an end.
“It can’t stop growing,” Solomon said. “I just can’t put it any other way.”