By Josh Schafer | August 5, 2020 | Reprinted from premierlacrosseleague.com
Zed Williams likens his football throwing motion to Uncle Rico. Yes, that Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite. The flailing throw is all wrist and forearms, no legs or body torque.
“Like a chicken wing throw,” Williams says.
Only the chicken wing works a lot better for Williams than it did for Uncle Rico trying to throw a football “over them mountains.” William’s quick snap of the wrist leads to a faster release. That short speedy motion has caught goalies off guard in his first season with the PLL as Williams 14 goals currently leads the league in goals.
The comparison not only explains Williams’ shot releases but also his personality. To compare a shot form that’s led to at least a hat trick in four straight games to the infamous throwing motion of one of Hollywood’s worst athletes is as self-deprecating as it gets. That’s Zed. He knows his throwing motion sets him apart, but he’s not the kind of person to talk about it. He’s really not the kind of person to talk about himself at all.
The man who’s had as many goals go viral over the course of the Championship Series as anyone doesn’t even have a following on any social media platform. When his old college coach Lars Tiffany congratulates him on a performance, Williams’ deflects the praise and asks about Tiffany’s family. When he’s asked how he manages to make defenders fall to the turf or tiptoe around the crease, he points out the teammates that set him up. He’s scored 14 goals on 38 shots. That’s not selfish shooting but rather smart lacrosse.
Having grown up on the Cattaraugus Reservation just south of Buffalo, New York, Williams appreciates the sport of lacrosse more than most. He really doesn’t care to score the ball, it just so happens he’s really good at it. He’s willing to fill any role to win lacrosse games. He once finished second in the country in ground balls for non-faceoff specialists and served as more of a distributor in college than a scorer.
He plays lacrosse the way the Whipsnakes preach: Limited talk in the media and always, always, hit singles. Throughout the Championship Series, Williams singles have included brash charges to the cage and quick release goals. He’s played the role of Zedzilla, the 6’2 230-pound goal-scoring machine that’ll flank the opposite of Matt Rambo at attack when the Whipsnakes faceoff against the Redwoods Thursday at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. But he’s not the uproarious goal scorer people may think.
“He’s really playing an initiator role for the Whipsnakes and he’s playing a role that would seem to suggest just the opposite (of who he is),” Tiffany said. “It’s sort of a cocksure, swagger give me the ball and get out of my way dodging style he has, which just completely isn’t his personality.”
Making the Monster
When Tiffany arrived at Virginia before Williams’ senior year, he moved Williams to attack because, as he put it, “why should Zed Williams be standing next to me on the field?” So UVA ran the offense through Williams.
He finished the year as the only non-faceoffs specialist to tally more than 50 points and 50 groundballs. He earned All-American honors and established himself as a player that could create plays, not just make them, like the time he fooled everyone against Loyola with a hidden ball trick goal or ripped a bounce pass in front of the crease for an assist against North Carolina.
After college, where Wiliams was dubbed Zedzilla by the University of Virginia football players, he married and had a daughter. He quit his job when his daughter was born two-and-half years ago and became a stay-at-home dad, though he still found a way to work.
Then a professional lacrosse rookie, Williams realized the daycare crew at Catalyst Fitness in Buffalo could watch his daughter while he worked out for about two hours. Rather than Google a fancy diet or follow a workout off Instagram, Williams kept it simple. He biked five miles a day, squatted, and hit every cable machine the gym had. That was pretty much it. Just about the same routine every day added 15-20 pounds of muscle onto Williams frame.
“I didn’t have a trainer or nothing,” Williams said. “I wasn’t sure what I was doing but I started seeing results, and I started seeing results in my game too. So I just kept doing it.”
The first thing Whipsnakes head coach Jim Stagnita said when he finally met Williams in person at the Utah bubble was “Holy s***.” He, like the rest of the Whipsnakes, couldn’t believe the size of Williams. They couldn’t believe it when he threw around 300 pounds on the squat rack or exploded into box jumps. And they certainly couldn’t believe it when the broadcast previewing a Whipsnakes game listed him at 185 pounds. Even Williams chuckled at that one.
“He’s a brick house,” Rambo said.
The Whips New Weapon
Rambo, who’s described himself on the NBC Sports broadcast as “a little thicc,” admired how Williams uses his body. He noted that he and Williams bring their bodies close into defenders, which not only prevents checks but also allows the attackman to dictate where the defender’s positioning.
Repeatedly throughout the tournament, it’s appeared as if Williams has no shot. A quick shoulder dip and roll off the defender’s hands changes that. Then his quick shot release propels the ball into the net before some people realize he’s shooting. It’s deceptive and so fast, at times it’s looked borderline unstoppable.
Williams is used to the tight spaces from playing box lacrosse, he said. Backing people down is different though. He’s been good at that since playing basketball in high school and playing attack just allows him to utilize that tactic more.
Zedzilla has gone airborne several times for goals, too. He first started doing that while playing professionally indoors and brings it to the field game when he sees fit. That’s how he plays every possession. It’s like his workouts, there’s no real plan. He’s just going with whatever works.
“It’s just attacking,” Williams said. “Not knowing what I’m going to do, but just feeling it out as I go through and really just take what they give me.”
Tiffany thinks it could be the 52-second shot clock that’s brought out the alpha scorer in Williams. He thinks he’s too efficient of a player to not attack a favorable matchup. Through four games, he’s had nothing but favorable matchups. On the race occasion when double’s have come, he’s dished the ball off for a few assists.
On the opposite side of Rambo, there’s virtually no way to slide aggressively to both wings. As long as people keep preventing Rambo from scoring, Williams will keep capitalizing. It’s too easy, almost like hitting a single when the pitcher throws a meatball.
That’s how the new guy to the Whipsnakes likes it. Simple and unassuming. He’s a quiet guy who just plays smart lacrosse and his new team couldn’t appreciate it anymore.
“People that don’t know Zed, I’m not just saying this, he’s the nicest human being I’ve ever met in my life,” Rambo said. “He’s the most genuinely caring person.”