The Ultimate Warrior
Now it’s almost 20 years later, and he can’t drive past too many fields or find too many places that don’t feel his influence. He has changed the way the game is played on the field; he has changed the way the game is viewed off the field. He has gone beyond anything he could have imagined when he started and in the process has become nothing less than a cultural pioneer.
“He has modernized the game of lacrosse through his efforts and made it better,” says his college coach, Princeton head coach Bill Tierney. “It’s a credit to him and his vision. The rest of lacrosse has gotten better because of him.”
His name is David Morrow. He is a 1993 graduate of Princeton University.
The sport of lacrosse – and the thousands of kids who play it today who might never have had the chance before – will forever be indebted to him.
David Morrow grew up outside of Detroit in the town of Troy. His father, Kevin, ran a tubing shop, and Morrow came to Princeton sure that he would take over the company business one day.
It was in the summer of 1991, after Morrow’s sophomore year, that his father was approached by a company looking to manufacture a more modern snowshoe. One of the materials that Kevin Morrow worked with was titanium.
At the time, lacrosse sticks were made primarily of aluminum – “low-end aluminum,” Morrow says – and even wood was still a possibility. It was during the snowshoe project that father and son came upon the idea of applying titanium to lacrosse sticks.
“It seemed like a natural,” Morrow says. “It was lighter and so much more difficult to bend. The way it was then, you could bend two or three aluminum sticks per game.”
From this idea, the entire game of lacrosse changed. Now, all sticks made by all manufacturers are made of composite material, lightweight yet strong, and every player on every level uses one.
In addition, out of this idea grew a worldwide industry that is in many ways a model of how to build a modern-day company. Warrior Lacrosse – named after the Brother Rice High School Warriors, Morrow’s high school – now has more than 600 employees worldwide. There are several different divisions to Warrior, including Warrior Lacrosse, Brine Sports, Warrior Sports Canada and even Warrior Hockey, which now has more than 150 National Hockey League players who use its titanium sticks.
Warrior now produces an entire line of lacrosse apparel and equipment that is used on every level of the sport (including Princeton University’s men’s team).
Morrow sold his company to New Balance in January 2004, but he remains as the President and CEO of Warrior Sports.
“What we’ve done is created an individual aspect to a team sport,” Morrow says. “On the surface, what we’re doing doesn’t jive with the attitude of team sports. I think it’s implied that if you play lacrosse that you’re buying into the concept of a team sport. What we’ve done is follow the lead of the action sports world, and we’ve incorporated that into our marketing. It’s helped make the sport a lot more relevant to younger people in general. Today, there’s a much more competitive landscape to gets kids’ attention. Unfortunately, team sports for kids are on the decline. You can check the participation numbers. In spite of that, lacrosse is growing.”
This is not a coincidence. More than just producing the equipment, Morrow and his company have sold an attitude about sports in general to today’s generation. Their ads are cutting edge, and in some instances, beyond. They sell not just sports but also a lifestyle, and they use their stable of today’s top players to make lacrosse, for lack of a better word, “cool.” Their marketing, for lack of a better word, is “hot.” And that combination has been out front in creating the modern game of lacrosse.
“I think we have a higher level of responsibility than just selling equipment,” Morrow says. “Even if kids don’t play, we want them to see what we’re doing and want to be a part of it. We’re competing against a lot of team sports.”
Morrow, 35, grew up at the very end of a world that anyone his age or older remembers well and anyone a little younger than he is cannot fathom.
“When I was a kid, everyone played multiple sports,” he says. “No one was on a travel team. You’d go outside and play all day with your friends. Your parents would call you in to eat. There were three TV networks and only a few other stations. Now, there are all these forces keeping kids in the house. TV. The internet. Thousands of channels. I-pods. DVDs. Parents have to push their kids to get outside.”
And to his critics, the ones who say his “hot” ads are a little too hot?
“Our message is definitely PG compared to what kids have access to nowadays,” he says. “I think it’s naïve of adults to think otherwise. The discovery factor for kids now is instant. When older kids were talking about something and you didn’t know what it was, you had to work up the courage to ask your older brother or another kid. Now, you can go Google it. We’re not selling sugar sodas here. We’re not selling candy. We’re not selling video games. We’re using these messages to promote something very positive. There’s a lot of layers to what we’re doing, but we’re promoting something very, very healthy for kids.”
Morrow is extremely passionate about lacrosse, something that might have seemed unlikely to him midway through his freshman year at Princeton. Morrow was an All-America defenseman at Brother Rice, where he also was a defenseman in hockey.
“I was really a hockey player,” he says. “I was much better at hockey than lacrosse. By the middle of my freshman fall, I wanted to quit lacrosse. I was the worst guy on the team. I didn’t know what was going on. I wasn’t comfortable. I came from Michigan, where there were only seven teams in the whole state. I came to play with kids who had played lacrosse their whole lives and had such a better understanding of the game. I was never really a good lacrosse player.”
He did have one ability.
“I could run fast,” he says. “I was like Forrest Gump. Coach T told me to keep my stick in front of my guy and run with him and that if I did that, nobody would run past me.”
Morrow decided to stick it out, and it worked out pretty well from there. He would play in all 16 games his freshman year, as Princeton reached the NCAA tournament for the first time ever. He became a first-team All-Ivy and third-team All-America selection his sophomore year.
His junior year, in 1992, was a huge one by every possible definition: Morrow became a first-team All-America defenseman and the Division I defenseman of the year, and Princeton won the first of its six NCAA championships.
“My goal was to be a starter by my senior year,” he says. “When we won the national championship and I won those individual awards, it was very shocking to me. I think self-confidence is a big part of it. I think a lot of kids don’t realize that when they’re doing sprints and working out in the gym that everyone is close in terms of how fast they are or how strong they are. It’s the little things that separate one guy from the next, and 90% of it is thinking that you can.”
As a senior, Morrow was again first-team All-America and defenseman of the year as Princeton reached the Final Four, and he also added the honor of becoming the Division I Player of the Year. Today, 14 years later, he remains the last defensive player to win the award and one of two all-time to do so, along with Dave Pietramala of Hopkins, today the Blue Jays’ head coach.
Beyond his resume, Morrow was an intimidating force for the Tigers. He spoke often during his playing days of having a chip on his shoulder because he was from Michigan and that he had to constantly prove himself to players from what was then the lacrosse mainstream of Long Island, Baltimore and upstate New York. He was as intense as any player who ever played at Princeton.
“You could see that David had some sass to him right from the start,” says Tierney. “We’ve built our program with good soldiers in what we think is a great system, or at least we hope. But you also need guys who can go out and do their own thing. It takes a lot of nerve to do that. If you’re not a risk taker at some point, you’re not going to be that extra special guy. I wouldn’t want to coach a team of 48 risk-takers, because then you just have out-of-control mayhem, but you definitely need somebody like that.”
Beyond that, the titanium stick that he and his father developed finally went from prototype to usable model. Morrow and his teammates experimented with titanium during the 1992 season and used the sticks for the first time in the 1992 NCAA semifinal game against North Carolina, which Princeton won 16-14 as Morrow scored a pair of goals in transition.
Once Morrow graduated, he turned his attention full-time to moving his fledgling company forward. It started with small loan from his father and his college roommate, Bill Frist, whose father had started Hospital Corporation of America and whose uncle and namesake was a heart/lung surgeon who became a U.S. Senator from Tennessee.
“What we did originally was mail a sample to every college coach and then send them an invoice,” he says. “We weren’t sure what they were going to do. They all kept the sample, and all but one paid. From there, the orders started pouring in.”
Morrow wasn’t through with his playing career, as he competed with the U.S. national team at the 1994 and 1998 World Championships, both of which the U.S. won. It was with that 1998 team that Warrior took off.
“We got the sponsorship for the U.S. team that year because nobody else wanted it,” he says. “We signed up for the full product line, but we didn’t have any of the stuff yet. We had to go make it all. I was playing and practicing, but I also had to deal with everything that came up. We’d have practice, and I’d get a call that the jerseys were going to be late. That sort of stuff.”
He gave up playing in 1998 to concentrate full-time on the business, and it skyrocketed as the product line grew and the marketing component kicked in.
“Our first ad was a picture of Jim Beardmore as he stood on top of a mountain in Colorado,” Morrow says. “I didn’t even know he was an All-America goalie [at Maryland; he is now the head coach of the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse]. An ad agency found him through a modeling agency. He was holding a stick over his head. He was screaming. He had the long hair. It was a very unusual approach, and it set the tone for how we’ve tried to position our brand. We’ve been taking chances ever since. We hope our product speaks for itself, but we also have a lot of fun marketing. We’re trying to speak to the customer.”
And in many ways, his customer is the newcomer to the sport, who these days is getting younger and younger.
“Where lacrosse is flourishing, other team sports are disappearing,” he says. “Look at baseball. My high school doesn’t even have it anymore, and there are a lot of places like that. Baseball is lacrosse’s main competition for spring sports. If you hold it up to the six or seven-year old, there’s no comparison. Lacrosse is much more active. It’s much more dynamic. It’s engaging every player on the field.”
It’s also a sport very few of the parents played, and this too has been part of the lacrosse revolution. Unlike almost every other youth sport, lacrosse has such a small percentage of participants whose parents were players. The result is that it is the child and not the parent who often is the more knowledgeable about the sport. In addition, fewer parents are critical of the officials or coaches, because the parents simply have no idea what they are watching.
“It’s a new market, and the kids are the ones who really take ownership of it,” Morrow says. “It’s one of the few sports where your dad isn’t going to tell you what to do. When I first brought home a lacrosse stick, my parents didn’t know what it was. That discovery factor really is attractive to kids. There’s a cool factor associated with it. You’re part of a team. You’re part of an athletic experience, and it’s all your’s. It’s not your parents’.”
Ultimately, that’s what David Morrow is about. He has always been unique, unafraid to think differently. He has taken chances. He has been passionate about what he believes.
Warrior is the family business, as his wife Christine, also a Princeton alum, has long been his co-worker as well, even as they have begun to raise their children, three-year-old Samantha, two-year-old Kevin and newborn Jessica.
The Morrows, whose company grew out of an idea for snowshoes, now have 40% of the market share and oversee the most visible lacrosse brand in the world.
“When it comes to style and image, we try to surround ourselves with the kinds of people who have the same beliefs and interests,” Morrow says. “We have excellent staff of young, energetic people. They’re very creative. We have a tagline internally: creative, youthful enthusiasm. Whenever we approach something, we ask how we will make it relevant and fun. You have to have a great idea, but you also have to have a twist to it.
“It’s realizing that you go out and get something done, and that’s what a lot of people are afraid of doing. My personal foundation to go out and start Warrior came from the confidence that grew out of playing lacrosse. Some of the best friends I still have are guys I played lacrosse with. It’s great to win games and championships, but there’s so much more to it. A lot of it is camaraderie. A lot of it is about being part of a team and what you can learn from that. That’s what we’re about.”
What he’s about can be seen on almost any spring day.
They’re everywhere, these kids. They play a game–lacrosse–that largely did not exist to their parents. They throw and catch. They cradle. They put on all the stuff and hit each other and bunch up around the ball. They try to shoot behind the back like their heroes.
They are all his disciples, this generation now playing his game. Their numbers are staggering; they stretch from one end of the country to the other.
All of these kids, all playing lacrosse, none of them able to identify him by name, none of them able to comprehend his impact on them, none of them able to understand that they wouldn’t be playing this game without him.
They have no idea that David Morrow has changed the very nature of the game – their game; they have no idea that in the world of lacrosse today, David Morrow’s influence is