WHEN DAVID MORROW began a lacrosse-gear business in his Princeton dorm room a dozen years ago, he felt like an insurgent. "My friends and I used to joke that lacrosse was too Thurston Howell III," says Morrow, who arrived on campus in the fall of 1989 from the lacrosse backwater of Troy, Mich. In time he grew a ponytail and bought an orange VW bus, which did not endear him to Princeton's conservative coach, Bill Tierney. But as a junior Morrow anchored the defense that won Princeton its first NCAA lacrosse title, in '92, and within a year he would begin to revolutionize the lacrosse equipment business and the very style of the sport with his company, Warrior Lacrosse.
Growing up with aluminum sticks, Morrow had been frustrated by how easily they bent and broke. So in the spring of 1992 his father, who had a metal tubing business, began sending him sample titanium sticks, and David shared them with his teammates. No one at that year's NCAA tournament other than the Tigers and their coaches knew that eight Princeton players used shafts made from titanium--which is half the weight of aluminum and five times as strong--as they defeated Maryland in the quarterfinals. The next weekend Morrow equipped seven more teammates with lightweight sticks, which he believes helped the Tigers sweep through the Final Four, beating Syracuse for the title.
That summer Morrow experimented further with titanium tubes at his father's shop, and by the following February, back at school, he had a thriving business, with a friend cutting shafts for one customer at a time for about $100 a pop. Aerospace-grade titanium costs five times as much as aluminum, but serious players proved to be willing to pay for performance. Meanwhile Morrow was NCAA Player of the Year as a senior, leading the Tigers to another Final Four, where they lost to Syracuse in the semis.
Warrior, which is based in suburban Detroit, manufactures everything from stickheads to pads to on- and off-the-field sportswear, as well as the first line of shoes with cushioning and cleat patterns designed expressly for lacrosse. The product names--Kung Fu grips, Mac Daddy gloves--bristle with attitude, and other manufacturers now imitate the graphics in Warrior's edgy ads. "We saw extreme sports catching on and MTV resonating," Morrow says, "and we took elements from skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing." A year ago Morrow sold out to New Balance in a lucrative deal that allowed him to remain as president of Warrior, which employs 70 people nationwide and expects to do more than $20 million in sales this year.
Warrior is also helping to bankroll Major League Lacrosse, for which it is the exclusive equipment supplier. Now in its fifth season, MLL flogs the sport the way Warrior does--as lifestyle. "It's the work hard, play hard thing," Morrow says, "and they"--by they he means Thurston Howell IIIs--"don't like that. The sport being small, we had a chance to redefine it. You can't go into baseball and shake it like a cage."