The Power of Growing Relationships

Nat St. Laurent '04 leading his Ohio Northern University team onto the field - Photo courtesy of Ohio Northern Sports Information
Nat St. Laurent '04 leading his Ohio Northern University team onto the field - Photo courtesy of Ohio Northern Sports Information

"I'm walking out for the PLL Championship at the highest stage on NBC. I'm leading a team out of the tunnel in professional lacrosse as the only African-American coach in pro lacrosse. "

The path Nat St. Laurent has taken to become a professional lacrosse coach has been a long one, but it had its start at Keuka College.

St. Laurent transferred into Keuka College but found himself instantly at home.

"The two and a half years at Keuka College has had the biggest impact on my life. My best friends while I was there, I just created an unbelievable group of friends."

However, there were bumps in the road for St. Laurent while on campus. His lacrosse career was stalled due to injuries. He also recalls a fateful morning in September 2001.

"The fall of 2001, I remember it," St. Laurent recalls. "I was in Space Hall, turned on the tv, and saw September 11. That winter, I signed up for the Army Reserves."

There was a feeling inside Laurent that he could do more and that he should do more. He worked with the College to adjust his schedule to allow for basic training. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army Reserves for years following Keuka College, earning Solder of the Year and Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year recognitions.

He maintained his status in the reserves while starting his coaching career. Nat St. Laurent graduated from Keuka College with a degree in unified elementary and special education in 2004. Following graduation, he went to Lexington City, Virginia to start his coaching career at Virginia Military Institute.

There he served as an assistant coach for the division one program but also continued to grow himself off the field. "At VMI, I started working on my Masters and we started our family." He also spent time in local elementary schools serving as a special education teacher.

In 2009, St. Laurent moved to an assistant coaching role at division three powerhouse Washington and Lee.

"The biggest lesson I learned back there was to try to be a sponge. I really grew up after basic training back then. That taught me a lot, but I think the thing I learned the most moving up through the ranks was to not get discouraged, to have goals, and be willing to work and meet those."

After spending a year at Ferrum, St. Laurent continued at Washington and Lee for three more seasons. There, he made multiple trips to the NCAA Tournament and had a team reach the top five in the national rankings.

"I knew I wanted to be a head coach," said St. Laurent. "I knew my wife was on board, so I just stayed persistent, tried to stay positive, and made as many relationships as I could. That was the biggest thing I learned. Making and learning how to have powerful and impactful relationships. Met some great people and that has helped me get where I am."

The opportunity arose for St. Laurent to move to Ohio and start the men's lacrosse program at Ohio Northern University. St. Laurent took advantage of the opportunity and was hired as the first coach in program history in February 2014.

"The university wanted to start Lacrosse the right way," ONU director of athletics Tom Simmons said. "This hire was extremely important to us. There was a priority placed upon integrity and leadership. Meeting Nat, these qualities were obvious immediately. Then when I saw Nat's commitment to his family, it was the icing on the cake. We had to have this guy. He told me "no" three times, but we knew he was the guy and I would not take no for an answer. Looking back, we hit a grand slam. Not only did we hire the right man, we gained an outstanding family for our community and our program has surpassed all expectations."

Nat St. Laurent is still patrolling the sidelines for the Polar Bears. In his five seasons, he has posted a 48-24 record. Ohio Northern tied for the Ohio Athletic Conference regular season title in 2018 and took them to the OAC Tournament finals in 2019.

"I think persistence and building relationships, making sure my players know that I care about them and love them and treat them a certain way, is the biggest thing that I have learned along the way."

Building those relationships and treating people the right way has been rewarding for St. Laurent. It is how the Keuka College grad has found himself coaching in the professional ranks of lacrosse. When starting the Ohio Northern program, he had a year of recruiting to build his roster. While at a recruiting event, he ran into a couple of coaches that he knew from his past and built relationships with. Bear Davis was working for the Ohio Machine of Major League Lacrosse. St. Laurent reached out to offer his help in an offer summer for the college coach.

"I told him how I was not coaching and if he needed any help this summer, I would volunteer and gladly jump on board. I started coaching with those guys in a very small role and that is when my relationships began with Kyle Harrison, Marcus Holman, and Tom Schreiber, all these world-class players. We started great relationships."

St. Laurent served as the defensive coordinator for the Machine for the first time in his coaching career and did not skip a beat. The Machine posted one of the best defenses in league history and won the MLL Championship in 2017.

Those relationships continued to return dividends at the professional level. "Paul Rabil called me from the Premier Lacrosse League and asked me if I would be interested in coaching." The first thought in St. Laurent's head was he was going to serve as an assistant coach for Jim Stagnitta, someone who has been a mentor for St. Laurent throughout his career.

St. Laurent recalls his conversation with PLL founder Paul Rabil. "He was like, no. Kyle Harrison, Tom Schreiber, Marcus Holman, they all think you should be a head coach. And I was like wow!"

This continues with St. Laurent's values of caring for people and treating them well. Building relationships and fostering friendships. "And the rest is history. I am now the head coach of the Redwoods. We played for a championship last year, lost a heartbreaker, and then lost a heartbreaker against the same team in the semis this year. It has been an amazing ride. It's been wild. It's been crazy. I have had to be extremely patient and make the most of any opportunity I have gotten."

Throughout all of his travels and accomplishments, Keuka College has always held a special place in his heart. "I met my wife (Cristin Cavanaugh '03) at Keuka. We have three children together. We just celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary, been together for 19 years."

"I created an unbelievable group of friends at Keuka. [Dr. Arthur F. Kirk, Jr. Athletics Hall of Famer] Luke Hopkins was the best man at my wedding; one of my best friends in the world. Josh Shaver was my roommate and longtime best friend. He was killed tragically a couple of years ago up in Canandaigua as a cop."

There is a group of six of us that stay in touch despite living across the country, and losing Josh was just devastating for me. However, it reaffirmed to me how important Keuka was because you met a guy like him and you have a close group of friends who all continue to keep in touch."

The St. Laurent family is also introducing their children to Keuka College. "We got to take my family back to Keuka College. It was fun. My son was so excited that he finally got to see my school after seeing some of the other major division one lacrosse schools we have visited. We took him there and they got to see the campus. They got to see our dorms. Got to see the room where my wife and I met, it was a really special summer."

St. Laurent is back in Ada, Ohio coaching Ohio Northern following his experience coaching in the PLL "bubble" in Herriman, Utah over the summer. He is preparing for fall practices with his Polar Bears and focusing on making a run at the conference championship in the spring of 2021.