Is giving a football player a stick so they can hit people with it a good idea?

If you ask their lacrosse coaches, it's perfectly fine.

The Fruita Monument and Grand Junction high school boys lacrosse teams are both pretty good this season.

The Tigers are 11-1, 9-0 Mountain League, the Wildcats 11-2, 7-1. Grand Junction claimed an intense 11-9 victory recently against its rival.

Part of the success for both teams can be attributed to the physicality of some football players who exchanged one set of pads for another.

"Lacrosse is a contact sport. (Football players) can hit and they're just more disciplined and more focused during game-time situations, so definitely you can see the impact," Grand Junction coach Joe Renteria said. "One of the main things is we have a good football program. So they bring that discipline from football and it carries over to lacrosse."

Over the past decade, lacrosse has expanded from a niche regional sport to one of the fastest growing high school sports in the country. According to U.S. Lacrosse's most recent participation survey, the number of high schools offering lacrosse grew by nearly 25 percent between 2012 and 2017.

In order for lacrosse to show such growth, new players are needed, and they often come from other sports.

It's not surprising a sport that boasts a fast pace and hard hitting would appeal to football players, including Fruita senior Jaden Street.

"Playing football before playing lacrosse definitely helped me transition into lacrosse," Street said. "I like the physicality of it. You get used to it with football, so then when you get hit in lacrosse it isn't that big of a deal."

Getting hit might not feel like a big deal, but hitting the other team sure is. Lacrosse features plenty of elegant play, but sometimes brute force is the way to go.

Fruita all-state defensive end Kaden Jolley knows all about brute force.

"In football, you learn how to hit and you come out here and people can't hit," Jolley said. "I'm always encouraging my teammates to get feisty, get mean — not cheap — but definitely to hit hard."

Having a football player on the field who likes contact can be contagious, Renteria said.

"It gets everybody pumped up and it shows people that you can hit and it's OK as long as it's legal," Renteria said. "A lot of people want to finesse, but sometimes you have to hit."

If there is a downside to having football players on the lacrosse field, it's related to the benefit — sometimes they just hit too hard.

For Jason Bruce, a do-it-all football player at Palisade who plays lacrosse for Grand Junction, dialing back the aggression has become necessary.

"I was in the penalty box all year last year," Bruce said. "That has been a big thing I've had to work on — keeping my head up and not just hitting people. Playing smarter instead of more physical."

Since Palisade doesn't have a lacrosse team, Bruce is one of several of the Bulldogs' football players who play lacrosse for Grand Junction.

Jolley said he's been frustrated at times when he's drawn penalties for contact, especially when that same kind of contact on the football field is encouraged.

"There are times where you'll hear the whistle and I'm like, 'I barely touched him,' " Jolley said. "Every ref is different, but I definitely like it more when they let us hit and let us play."

Bruce is still bringing the hard-hitting football mentality onto the lacrosse field, but in a more controlled manner.

"I've got some bets with coaches that I won't get penalties in each game," Bruce said. "I just try to play smarter and think about playing for my team and not just for myself because penalties will kill us."

Despite the similar full-contact nature of football and lacrosse, the games themselves are very different.

Football features plays with plenty of stops and starts, but lacrosse is a game of constant movement, which Street said was a difficult adjustment.

"For football I feel like we do a lot of 40s (40-yard sprints) in practice," Street said. "In (lacrosse) it's a lot more gassers and stuff like that where you're just running longer and farther.

"It's more like sprint-jog, sprint-jog, whereas in football it's sprint-stop."

For Bruce, a running back in football, playing midfield in lacrosse has required more conditioning than football. Even as a two-way football player who also played special teams, the Palisade senior said he trains nearly every day between the two seasons to prepare.

"You definitely have to be way more in shape in my position in lacrosse," Bruce said. "Every play in football, you get a down off and you get breaks in between each play. But in lacrosse, you just go."

Besides the conditioning, Street said lacrosse helps him see the football field better.

"When I started playing lacrosse and started touching the ball more, I started to see lanes opening up and see other people I didn't see before because I wasn't used to looking for people in football," Street said. "Then, when I went and played football again, I could see (the field) a little bit better."

Although football players make good lacrosse players, Renteria said any two-sport athlete will bring different knowledge and skill to the field.

Basketball players understand the idea of picks and rolls, which basketball and lacrosse share.

"All the multi-sport athletes, you can tell they're just a step above the others," Renteria said. "I encourage all my players to do another sport: tennis, football, anything. Anything that gets them going."

Both lacrosse and football seem to get the athletes in the Grand Valley going, but which gets them going more?

For Bruce it's a clear choice.

"I've been playing football my whole life," Bruce said. "I love lacrosse, but I love football more."

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