When Tehoka Nanticoke was as young as 10 years old, he and his father would frequently make the 45-minute trip from the Grand River reservation just outside of Hamilton, Ontario to Banditland. They were Buffalo Bandits season ticket members and for some games, Nanticoke would serve as a ball boy while cheering on his favorite team.
Nanticoke, now 23, is living out a dream. The Bandits selected the forward with the third-overall pick in the 2021 NLL Entry Draft.
Playing for the Bandits has been even better than he could have imagined.
“It’s a dream come true after everything I’ve been through,” he said. “I finally deserve this. There are no words that can describe the joy that I have now.”
Family has been a major motivator for him throughout his life. Born into the Mohawk Nation, he was raised to respect his proud heritage and embrace his strong cultural roots.
He credits his brother Chancey for getting him into lacrosse almost as soon as he could hold a stick.
“I was practicing backhands at the age of 4,” he said. “My brother taught me everything I know.”
Nanticoke was raised by his grandparents, and although they are now deceased, he holds tightly to advice his grandfather gave him during his final days. Those words have helped Nanticoke to never lose sight of his goals.
“When my grandpa was on his deathbed, he told me to go play in the Iroquois Nationals tournament instead of taking time off,” Nanticoke recalled. “He always knew what I was supposed to do.”
His playing career took off once he was scouted and recruited to play lacrosse at IMG Academy, a prep school in Florida. From there, Tehoka played for the U19 World Championship and was named to the Under Armour HS All-American team.
Later, he committed to playing Division-I lacrosse at the University of Albany and was considered the top recruit in his class by Inside Lacrosse in 2017.
Nanticoke recorded a career high 82 points in 2018 with 50 goals and 32 assists in just 19 games during his first season, earning himself American East Rookie of the Year, All-American First Team and All-Rookie Team honors.
Following that stellar freshman season, he took time off from lacrosse to focus on his mental health.
“I lost the love for the game for a little bit there and started playing for the wrong reasons,” he said. “I wasn’t myself.”
Years of endless hours of practice, high standards, and unreachable expectations he placed on himself eventually caught up to him. He realized he needed some time away from the game to get healthy again.
“My whole life, I put the pressure of the world on myself. I always wanted to be the absolute best,” he said.
Nanticoke re-lived certain tournaments and games throughout his career where he faced racist comments and hatred. It led to a bout with depression, but he said he can now look back and see how what he had to go through shaped his life today.
“All of the bad I have dealt with has made me a stronger person,” he said. “And I wouldn’t be in this position now without it.”
Being a kid fully immersed in lacrosse and looking up to players like John Tavares and John Grant Jr., he is now realizing his dreams by playing professional lacrosse.
“The only jersey I ever bought when I was younger was a John Tavares jersey” Tehoka said.
Although the jersey might be “eight sizes too small now,” he still has the jersey of his long-time hero, who is now his head coach.
HATS! What a night from the rookie!
Nanticoke takes it to the cage for the HATTY 🧢🧢🧢 pic.twitter.com/uDNpZ7T6bX
— NLL (@NLL) December 5, 2021
The Bandits could not have asked for a better start to the 2021-22 season and Nanticoke has been a big part of it.
The team has won its first two games of the year, scoring double-digit goals in each. Nanticoke posted a hat trick in the season opener and added another in the second game. His four goals are tied for second on the team and are second-best among all NLL rookies.
“On offense, everybody’s a threat,” he said. “At the same time, everybody wants to make everybody else better and win games, that’s what it’s all about.”
With his family in the stands, and all of Buffalo behind him, Nanticoke knows he’s in a special position.
“There was a moment during the first game when I looked at the crowd from the floor and said ‘Wow, I’m really doing this,’” he said. “’I’m playing professional lacrosse for the Buffalo Bandits.’”
He said it will never get old running out of that tunnel and hearing his name called because he has been waiting for that moment his entire life.