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How a former Princeton lacrosse star turned an equipment problem into a success story

By David Morrow as told to Brian Burnsed

I grew up in Detroit. It’s a manufacturing community, and I had what I’d call a nontraditional childhood. My dad owned lots of fabrication shops. When I was 13 years old, for my birthday my dad gave me boots, a uniform and an alarm clock and said, “You’re going to be working for me.” I learned how to weld.

This was back in the mid-’80s. I developed an interest in lacrosse. It was extremely obscure: Where I went to middle school, there were four middle school teams in the entire state. My sixth-grade science teacher sold me my first stick for $20.

I came to Princeton from a place where I was the tallest stump in the swamp, being the best lacrosse player in Michigan. And when I showed up at our first practice in the fall, it became very apparent to me that I was the worst one on the team. I tried to quit the team. Without telling my coach, Bill Tierney, I went to the hockey coach and asked if I could play. He said I’d have to skate with the JV team at first, then they would consider moving me up. So I just stopped showing up to lacrosse practice and started showing up to hockey practice. I get a call from Coach T for not being at practice for a week, and he really laid into me. He said, “I brought you here for a reason. I think you can do it.” So I sheepishly backed out of my commitment to hockey.

When I decided to stay on the team my freshman year, the goal I set for myself was to be a starter by the time I’m a senior. I started performing way beyond that. Then my mind started to open, and I told myself, “If I keep doing what Coach T tells me to do, anything is possible.” I made my career being a shutdown defenseman. It ended up taking me to levels that I never thought were remotely possible.

I was a very aggressive defenseman. Back then, the only options you had for a defense shaft — a 6-foot-long stick — were wood, which was very heavy, or aluminum, which was really soft. Every time you checked somebody, your stick would bend. So as a defenseman, your stick always had these S-curves in it. You’re constantly trying to straighten it out, but your stick was always out of balance.

Dad and I had a project that we were working on at his shop with guys from Penn who started a company that created the first synthetic snowshoe. Their snowshoes were bending too much, and they said they needed to look at alternative materials. We brought in all kinds of high-strength aluminum and titanium. So the titanium was there for a completely different application, but when it came time to solve the stick problem, my dad said, “Why don’t we try the titanium?”

This was in April of 1992, my junior year, and we were going into the national playoffs. He made samples and sent them to me. I brought it into practice and Coach T goes, “What the hell is that?” I said, “It’s a new shaft. It’s really light, really strong, and you can really whale on guys. Can I use it?” By the end of practice, other guys wanted to use it, too, so we made more for our team.

We beat Syracuse in double overtime to win the national championship that year. That was a really pivotal point in my life. That semifinal game ended up being one of the best games I played in my career. What was wild was that was also how the Warrior story started. In that game, we were using the titanium handles that I developed.

All these other coaches heard about it and wanted to know: “How do we get it?” So then they call my dad’s machine shop, which is not geared up to make lacrosse sticks. My dad pulled me in the office and said, “People are calling and want to buy these things. I think we should start a company.” I was an English major. I didn’t know anything about starting a company, but my father was a serial entrepreneur. I told him, “Let’s do it.”

We decided to name it Warrior after my high school mascot. We spent from the summer of ’92 through the spring of ’93 developing it as an actual product. We launched it in the spring of ’93. I was still a student. We sent a defense shaft and an attack shaft to every single college coach in the country, and then we sent them a bill. We figured we’d get most of them back. Everybody kept them, and everybody paid for them — except for two guys — and everybody who kept them ordered more.

I got a lot of help from friends and family but had to learn on the fly. Fast forward, Warrior is now the global leader in lacrosse. We have a very large ice hockey business, too. In 2004, I sold the business to New Balance. Warrior has sold probably over $2 billion in sports equipment over the years, and we have 700 employees across the world.

The one thing you learn is everything big starts small. I think the reason companies have success isn’t because you start out thinking, “I’m going to build a company doing hundreds of millions of dollars of sales” or “I’m going to make a lot of money.” I think the reason companies become extraordinarily successful is because they come from passion. The founders have a true passion for what they do, and that comes through in their work.

David Morrow is the founder of Warrior Sports, a leading sporting goods company. The Princeton graduate helped lead the Tigers to their first national championship in 1992 and was the 1993 Division I men’s lacrosse national player of the year. He was a 2018 NCAA Silver Anniversary Award recipient.

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.