Walton’s James Gurr forging own path through lacrosse

James Gurr is the highest ranked player in Georgia in the Inside Lacrosse national rankings for the Class of 2021, coming in at No. 75. He has signed with Ohio State.
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James Gurr is the highest ranked player in Georgia in the Inside Lacrosse national rankings for the Class of 2021, coming in at No. 75. He has signed with Ohio State.

Credit: Courtesy of Cecil Copeland

Senior midfielder nationally ranked, signed with Ohio State

When it comes to football and basketball, one of the more fertile recruiting grounds in the country is Georgia.

When it comes to lacrosse, the deepest talent pools reside in states such as Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Virginia, among others.

But Walton midfielder James Gurr has managed to find himself on the national radar because of his exceptional play. He is ranked No. 75 in the Inside Lacrosse rankings for the Class of 2021 — the highest ranking for any Peach State player.

Walton entered the week with a 10-5 record, good for a No. 6 ranking in Class 6A-7A, and will close the regular season this week. The GHSA playoffs begin Wednesday.

Gurr, who signed with Ohio State in November, played a key role in the Raiders’ 2019 6A-7A title, and after last season was canceled, the Raiders have a legitimate shot at defending in 2021 with Gurr leading the way.

“James is just a game-changer,” Walton coach Griffin Spotz said. “He’s impossible to guard one-on-one, so at all times he’s drawing the attention of multiple defenders, which opens up opportunities for everyone else.”

Through the Raiders’ first 12 games, Gurr has scored 24 goals and has 10 assists. Although not the flashiest stat line — teammate and junior attacker Lee Butler has 42 goals and 11 assists — the team goes as Gurr does because of his play on both ends. Gurr and Butler have been the main focus of opposing defenses, and that has allowed teammates to flourish. For example, senior midfielder Eric Zeiher scored 10 goals in a four-game stretch from March 20-April 16.

“When you think about everything he does for our team,” Spotz said, “between the boxes, and in the middle of the field, he’s as good as it gets. He’s great in transition; he clears; gets ground balls, rides — you can sub him in on an attack to have better rides — and I can’t tell you how many fast breaks he has stopped by catching an opponent and slowing him down when it otherwise would have been an unsettled situation.”

That a member of the Gurr family is enjoying athletic success at Walton is a surprise to no one at the school. Gurr’s parents graduated from Walton in 1991, and his father, Stewart, played defensive back. Mindy, his mother, was a cheerleader. His brother, Weston (Class of 2019), played linebacker and safety for the Raiders, and his sister, Mary Frances (2018), ran track.

Now it’s James’ turn to shine, and he’s proud to add to the family’s legacy.

“We have a bunch of memories we talk about around the dinner table and with other family,” Gurr said. “Living up to what (my parents and siblings) have done was important to me. It has made me happy and made my family very proud. It’s so good to have all the support they’ve given me as I’ve followed in their footsteps.”

Gurr is the outlier of his family in a couple of ways. First, he strayed from football, the sport his father and brother played, when he dropped all other sports for lacrosse after becoming hooked at age 11. That decision ultimately led to him signing with Ohio State instead of attending Georgia, where the rest of the Gurr household went (his siblings currently are there).

“I always wanted to be a Bulldog if I wasn’t playing lacrosse,” Gurr said. “But after seeing Ohio State’s campus, it was too hard to turn down.”

A number of factors go into making Gurr a blue-chip recruit. He has top-end speed, good dodging ability and off-the-charts footwork, Spotz said. In addition, he can score left- or right-handed with efficiency and is an excellent short-stick defender.

It’s not just his natural talent, either.

“He texted me at 7 a.m. on a Saturday,” Spotz said. “It was the morning after a game that ended at 10 p.m., but he was already in the gym working out his legs, which he usually does the day after a game. ... That (work ethic) is the reason he’s at Ohio State.”

The most successful player in Walton lacrosse history is Scott Ratliff, who graduated in 2009. Although not as heavily recruited as Gurr, Ratliff got a last-minute offer from Loyola-Maryland and parlayed that into an NCAA title in 2013.

“Scott has coached me in the summer and has been a huge help recruiting-wise,” Gurr said. “It means the world to me to be mentioned in the same sentence with him.”

In a typical season, Spotz estimates 4-5 teams have a legitimate chance to win the state title. But given the chaos of the past 13 months because of the pandemic, he believes there are as many as 15 teams that could win it all this year, and the Raiders are one of them.

Gurr agrees.

“It’s up for grabs,” he said. “We’ve talked about taking it game-by-game and focusing on what’s in front of us. I think we have a good chance to repeat because we’ve been playing some really good ball lately, I’d say, and we’re starting to come together as a team.”

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