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THE GRIND: Lambert's Jaryd Jean-Felix leads revamped defense for defending lacrosse state champs
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Jaryd Jean-Felix has the green light to cross the midfield line if he wants to go for the glory that comes with scoring goals.

He usually doesn’t need to, though, and on this year’s Lambert boys lacrosse team, Jean-Felix has more pressing duties. The senior is the only returning member of the starting defense from last year’s Longhorns squad, which went 21-0 and won the Class 6A state championship.

Jean-Felix has moved from long stick midfielder to playing defense full time and helping mentor the younger members of Lambert’s squad.

“Our defense was really strong (last year) and sometimes our offense would struggle,” Jean-Felix said. “But I think our offense is definitely having to pick up a lot more slack this year from the defense just being all new guys ... The offense definitely has a bigger role in this year's team.”

It isn’t like Jean-Felix’s unit is just wheezing along. Lambert’s offense has provided more than enough of a cushion, netting 51 goals in three games going into Tuesday’s game against Centennial. But the defense has been proportionally stout, giving up six goals, with the three allowed against Blessed Trinity on Feb. 18 being largest lapse.

And by staying on defense, Jean-Felix can utilize his physicality, which he counts among his best tools. When asked if he’s considered a hard hitter, he smiled.

“Yeah,” he said with a laugh. “I think so.”

Jean-Felix’s football career supports that characterization. He played free safety for the Longhorns, and his performance last season was enough to draw attention from a number of schools, such as Air Force.

However, this was all after Jean-Felix had decided his college plans. The Longhorns have long had a connection to Rutgers in Rick Lewis, a Scarlet Knights alum who coaches Lambert’s defense, and Rutgers’ current coaches got a look at Jean-Felix the summer after his sophomore year.

Jean-Felix then went up to New Jersey to visit the campus, and by the end of July, he had verbally committed.

So while he’ll miss playing football, it would have taken a much bigger offer than the ones Jean-Felix was getting for him to take his talents to the college gridiron.

“I never really like pursued it a lot,” Jean-Felix said. “Because I knew I already had lacrosse.”

When he officially joins the Scarlet Knights, Jean-Felix will be carrying on a family tradition. He’ll be the third of his parents’ three sons to play Division I college athletics: The oldest, Jordyn, plays safety for the football team at Marist, and the middle son, Justyn, is a freshman on the lacrosse team at Mercer.

So while New Brunswick, N.J. might seem far away from Suwanee, Jaryd has Jordyn about two hours away in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and plenty of other family in the area. And if he needs advice on managing student-athlete life, he knows who to ask.

“It’s exciting,” Jaryd said. “But it’s always been kind of the norm to play college sports in my family."