Lacrosse star Jeremy Thompson poses this question when talking about lacrosse-specific cleats: “Ever see a deer with fat legs?”
Thompson, who, in the tradition of his Onondaga Nation heritage, uses an animal to represent his lacrosse game, says his on-field speed mimics that of a deer, his animal. He needs to stay quick and light on his feet. Fat legs just don’t work.
With the deer in mind, Thompson teamed with Nike to create the first-ever signature lacrosse cleat from the Oregon-based company in an athletic landscape that doesn’t boast much in the way of lacrosse-specific shoes and apparel.
Using Thompson’s insight to develop the Huarache V and partnering with Thompson Brothers Lacrosse—the four brothers, Jeremy, Jerome Jr., Lyle and Miles have a family hold on the game and compete internationally for the Iroquois Nationals while setting NCAA records along the way—Nike has set a new direction for lacrosse equipment.
Nike designer Jeff Rasmussen created the cleat with Jeremy using the minimalist philosophy of light and strong equals fast.
“There is a lot of crossover (with football cleats),” Rasmussen tells SI.com. “In lacrosse the athletes are smaller, with less gear so they aren’t as weighed down. We can build more minimal.”
The challenge, he says, with all cleats involves keeping the foot over the footbed during movement. And the sport of lacrosse features athletes that routinely make a lot different movements in many directions, often with sudden changes.
To give the foot a relaxed fit when not engaged and an aggressive hold when in movement, Rasmussen went old school. Ancient Chinese old school. He used the elements of a Chinese finger trap to create a woven pattern over the midfoot. “I wanted you to control the cleat, not let the cleat control you,” he says.
Inside, Rasmussen built a bootie for a tight fit around the ankle. Up the side of the midtop, he reduced weight while still offering protection and stability by creating a diagonal cutout.
Another major difference between the Huarache V, which releases in October, and popular football cleats—or soccer, for that matter—comes on the TPU outsole. The stud pattern contains a mix of three different types of cleats. Some are angled for linear speed, others conical for 360-degree traction and a third style, small shovel cleats, marks the perimeter for “severe angles of attack.”
With Rasmussen leading the performance, it was Jeremy and his family driving the aesthetic. The Thompson-styled black and blue cleat signifies “dark times” Jeremy experienced when he was younger. The black marks the dark. The blue, though, has an even greater meaning based on teachings from his father.
During these difficult times, Jeremy recalls his father taking him into the woods and sitting with him near a stream. The two didn’t talk much, but Jerome Sr. used water as a metaphor. “The story pulls me out of difficult times,” Jeremy says. “Water is always moving forward. For me, water is one of the most powerful things in the world because it’s always going to find its way through.”
The stylized “T” logo on the tongue and pattern of the cleat’s upper creates a signature for Thompson and his brothers. Designed by the youngest brother, Lyle, the T is the company logo for Thompson Brothers Lacrosse. The spine of the letter appears braided, just like the hair on all four brothers. The one tip up, and one tip down look of the top of the T “represents the nation we are from,” Jeremy says.
But beyond the design of the Huarache V, Jeremy says he needs his cleats to match his persona.
“I see myself as the deer,” he tells SI.com. “I have quickness and explosive freedom and I can focus on my play. I can’t wait to put the [Huarache V] into action.”
As Nike continues to build the Huarache line of lacrosse cleats for both men and women, lacrosse-specific equipment continues to expand.
For uniforms, Nike has opted for a sleeveless jersey with breathability on the sides and back and a woven stretch across the front to allow for the game’s torque. Even lacrosse socks have built-in padding around the ankles for increased protection.
The sticks have evolved to include alloy shafts and carbon-composite makeups from a number of different brands and the heads come in a variety of designs for control and whip.
Lyle, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the NLL draft, says he sees cleats and sticks as the premier tools of the game. And he has Thompson-specific designs for each, with the Huarache V and a netting style on his Nike Lakota U stick that the lacrosse brothers created themselves.
The “Thompson Drop Top” design limits hook on the ball, Lyle explains, by giving more width in the middle that doesn’t grab the ball as much. “It holds the ball a lot better,” he says. “You still have a channel, but not a hook.”
From netting to Nike cleats, the Thompson brothers and the Iroquois Nationals have put their signature on lacrosse equipment—and it's just the beginning.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.