JT Giles-Harris poses at Buckroe Beach in the Hampton, Va., area.

The Man Who Can't Be Moved: JT Giles-Harris is as Steady as They Come

For the first time in years, lacrosse wasn’t in JT Giles-Harris’ immediate future.

It couldn’t be — he was rehabbing a knee injury sustained in his final collegiate game, a loss to Maryland in the 2021 NCAA semifinals.

The 2021 William F. Schmeisser Award winner as the nation’s top defenseman was coming off a season at Duke in which he dominated nearly every matchup he was given. He was drafted third overall by Chrome LC of the Premier Lacrosse League to be the cornerstone of the club’s defense. A blossoming professional career awaited him.

Coaching opportunities came calling, too. None more enticing than Chazz Woodson’s pitch to have him join the Hampton coaching staff.

“I don’t really wanna think about lacrosse right now,” Giles-Harris politely told him.

The injury kept him from playing for the Chrome that summer. Questioning his purpose post-college and away from lacrosse, Giles-Harris worked odd jobs near his childhood home in Nyack, New York. He constructed gym equipment. He worked as a cashier at a local burrito spot. He delivered pizzas on weekends. Anything to pass the time.

During those difficult days, and even now during better ones, Giles-Harris turns to a note on his phone that houses 675 inspirational quotes. He’s curated the list over the years. Whenever he’s in need of a pick-me-up, Giles-Harris thumbs through the file until he settles on one that becomes his credo for the day.

Three months after working odd jobs, he called Woodson back. Giles-Harris always knew he wasn’t done with lacrosse, but he was now ready to reintroduce himself to the sport.

“It was nice to be almost normal for a little bit,” said Giles-Harris, who added that it was refreshing to step away from the field for a few months.

“JT knows how to play his man and half of another.”

— Ron Caputo

Although Giles-Harris doesn’t quite remember when or how his list of inspirational quotes started, the very first entry in that note was especially fitting for the day he called Woodson back.

“I’m looking for warriors,” it read.

Woodson needed leaders. People with a little fire to add to his staff at Hampton. Ironic, of course, because “fire” isn’t the word that comes to mind during a conversation with Giles-Harris. That ferocity comes out when he has a pole in his hands. Giles-Harris is intentional with his words, soft-spoken and thought-provoking.

He has 675 examples of being in touch with his mental well-being and doesn’t shy away from being alone — but don’t mistake him for being a loner. He just gives off the vibe of being comfortable in his own skin. He’s grounded.

Lacrosse unlocks some of that fire, though. It’s his passion, and that flame certainly didn’t die during his summer away from the game. He accepted the Hampton gig in August 2021 and got to campus in January 2022. He immediately made an impact as the fire to Woodson’s ice.

“JT reminds me a little of myself as a younger coach,” Woodson said. “He’s a little more fiery than I am now … He leans more toward the hard-ass [way of coaching]. That’s because he’s that kind of competitor.”

Giles-Harris spends so much time watching film and studying opponents that he expects his players to reciprocate the effort. He doesn’t appreciate giving anything less than 100 percent. That’s when he’ll let you hear it.

Giles-Harris spent the 2022 season learning what it was like to be a coach. He taught fundamentals to a Hampton team that is focusing more on player development than wins and losses at this point in Woodson’s tenure. His coaching style, he said, comes from his family. His father, John Harris, was a coach. His brother, Joe, is a linebacker who’s played parts of four seasons in the NFL. Intensity wasn’t hard to come by in the Giles-Harris household.

But not every athlete can channel that intensity into productivity. Communication — already a pivotal skill for a defenseman — is something he’s honed on the sidelines.

“Everyone is different,” Giles-Harris said. “Some guys on the team, and they know it, I can yell at them, and they’re cool with it. Other guys, something might be happening in their life, so just learning how to tailor it to certain people so the message is heard best.”

Giles-Harris used those fine-tuned communication skills in the summer of 2022. He was finally ready to make his PLL debut with the Chrome, a team stocked with defensive veterans like Jesse Bernhardt and Mike Manley. He was the young kid in the room. So, he watched and listened. It reinforced that not everyone could be the loudest voice in the locker room or the quietest person on the field.

He parlayed an outstanding rookie season into high praise as the league’s Dave Pietramala Defensive Player of the Year. He was “afraid [he] was going to suck” upon returning. That couldn’t have been further from the truth.

When the height of U.S. national team tryouts came about, Giles-Harris impressed the coaching staff with his footwork and toughness. He didn’t back down from a matchup.

Giles-Harris was named to the team. John Danowski, his head coach at Duke, recused himself from conversations about his former college players, so the decision had to be unanimous among the three other coaches — Joe Amplo, Charley Toomey and Seth Tierney. It was. What impressed them more than his physical traits was his demeanor.

“He wasn’t a very big verbal presence, but he was always calm and poised,” Amplo said. “Those are valuable skills we’re going to need in some pressure moments. He doesn’t try to be anything that he’s not.”

Growing up, Giles-Harris idolized New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. Revis didn’t always accrue the numbers of someone who deserved recognition, but in 2023, “Revis Island” will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame simply because quarterbacks were afraid to throw in his direction. If there was a lacrosse equivalent, it might be Giles-Harris. Opposing attackman simply don’t want to dodge against him. Sometimes, college offensive coordinators chose to avoid him altogether.

“JT knows how to play his man and half of another,” Duke assistant coach Ron Caputo said in a 2020 interview with USA Lacrosse Magazine.

Giles-Harris keeps a low profile. He’s posted just 23 times on his personal Instagram, and his post on December 20, 2022, was when he proudly announced to his 7,500-plus followers that he made the national team.

“He’s like two different guys,” said Bernhardt, Giles-Harris’ teammate with the Chrome and the U.S. team. “A different guy on the field than off the field. He’s a very quiet guy once you get to learn about him, but he doesn’t play that way on the field. He has a great ability to be who he is, but when he becomes a competitor, he flips a switch.”


JT Giles-Harris, a U.S. defenseman, was the PLL's defenseman of the year in 2022.

Instead of seeking out social media-worthy experiences in his new Hampton-area home, Giles-Harris keeps it low key. He enjoys spending time at the Hampton History Museum and nearby Buckroe Beach. He likes driving through other college campuses in the area like William & Mary, Old Dominion and Norfolk State.

He bought a ukulele during the pandemic and tried to teach himself “One Love” by Bob Marley. In his downtime, he’s trying to read more. The books are about coaching and mindset, of course. There isn’t much nightlife near his apartment, he said, and he’s done with the go, go, go lifestyle of college.

The little things are all Giles-Harris needs. There’s a strip mall near his apartment where he practices in his spare time, peppering the back wall of MOOYAH Burger for 45 minutes at a clip.

“I just like hearing the ball hit the wall,” Giles-Harris said. “I’ll listen to some music sometimes.”

Just him, his stick and a ball. All by himself. On an island with his thoughts. JT Island, if you will.

“He’s very relaxed,” Danowski said. “He’s a gem. He’s a better person than he is an athlete — and he’s a phenomenal athlete. He’s someone I would trust with my family, with my money, with anything.”

The most recent entry, at least at press time, in his quote collection is straightforward. “Day one, week one.” It’s about going to work each day with the same energy as if it was your first. Giles-Harris will experience his first taste of meaningful international competition from June 21-July 1 at the World Lacrosse Men’s Championship in San Diego. It will likely be the biggest stage of his lacrosse career.

Danowski isn’t worried about his longtime defenseman.

“Sure, nerves could happen,” Danowski said. “First time on this stage, first time playing Canada — but it won’t happen a second time.”

Not with Giles-Harris. He won’t let it happen to himself.

“He’s one of those guys who could be out there on an island,” Amplo, the team’s defensive coordinator, said. “There are going to be matchups that we really like with him and basically tell him, ‘We’ll see you in a few hours.’”

Support the U.S. men’s national team in its quest for gold this summer at the World Lacrosse Men’s Championship in San Diego from June 21-July 1. Purchase tickets here to support the U.S. live. #ThisIsHome.


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