Former Warrior Grant Hughes was drafted by the Florida Launch of Major League Lacrosse. Currently on the practice squad, he is hard at work to make the team’s active roster.
The tough part is when the team gets ready in the locker room before a home game.
That’s when the roster players for the Florida Launch, a fourth-year Major League Lacrosse franchise based out of Boca Raton, don their pads and uniforms and head out to the field at FAU Stadium.
It’s also when the team’s practice squad players, players such as West Orange alum Grant Hughes, instead change into a team polo and khakis to wear on the sideline.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking — everybody is wearing a jersey, but you and your practice squad buddies,” Hughes admits. “Wearing that jersey is what I want the most.”
It is a stark contrast from the experience that Hughes, a Windermere native, has had throughout his lacrosse career. Hughes started playing lacrosse in fifth grade, continuing with the sport into high school at West Orange, where he was a standout and a team captain under coach Bill Baker, in addition to playing football and winning a state championship as part of the cheerleading team.
A defensive midfielder — or “middie,” as they are often referred to in lacrosse — Hughes earned a scholarship to Florida Tech, a Division II program. There, his career blossomed, culminating in a senior season that saw him earn All-American and All-Conference honors.
It was during that senior season that the MLL first appeared on Hughes’ radar.
“As the season progressed, and I kept doing well, I started asking my coaches, ‘Do you think I have a future in lacrosse?’” Hughes said. “They said, ‘Yes,’ and started to get in contact with the Florida Launch coaches.”
Despite Hughes coming from a Division II background, the Launch were intrigued by his skills, as well as his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame. They could not make any guarantees about whether they would draft him, but as Hughes watched a livestream of the 2017 MLL Collegiate Draft May 28, surrounded by friends and family at his home in Windermere, he received a call during the eighth round: it was the Launch, saying they would be drafting him in the 10th round.
“I basically have 15 minutes a week to try to earn my spot and beat out guys that have been in the league for multiple years."
A couple of weeks later, Hughes got his first taste of what would become a routine: driving down to Boca Raton on a Friday for an evening practice. The next morning, there is a light practice and walkthrough. On Saturday evening comes the game.
The team puts the players up in a hotel for the two nights they are in town, after which they return home where they train and most have a day job. MLL salaries vary, but most of the members of the 25-man roster make between $10,000 and $20,000, annually.
Members of the practice squad roster, however, are unpaid.
Hughes said he shows up ready to compete each week fueled by his passion for the game — and by the knowledge that his best opportunity at making an active roster is still ahead of him.
With the MLL Collegiate Draft occurring midseason — the season starts in April and the playoffs are ongoing this month — it can be hard for an unheralded rookie to come in and immediately crack the playing rotation.
“I basically have 15 minutes a week to try to earn my spot and beat out guys that have been in the league for multiple years,” Hughes said.
That will change next spring, when Hughes participates in the teams’s training camp.
“Training camp is when you get the most playing time and you can really show your stuff,” Hughes said.
Hughes has enjoyed his initial experience with the Launch, even as a practice squad player. He’s still been asked for his autograph by young lacrosse fans on several occasions — he said he needs to work on his signature — and has learned a lot about the way the game is different at the professional level. For starters, it’s more physical.
“Wearing that jersey is what I want the most.”
Like many lacrosse players, Hughes is working toward finding a day job. He studied business administration and accounting at Florida Tech and said he is seeking an internship in sports operations. He can see himself working in a sports business or operations capacity, but also has interest in becoming a certified public accountant.
In the meantime, he’s focused on making an active roster, something he never would have envisioned as a player from a public high school who played at the Division II level.
“If I can do it, then anybody can do it,” Hughes said. “Everything I do is for the love of the game.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].