2020 Was Zed Williams’ Finest Year
2020 was a difficult year for many.
For Zed Williams, it couldn’t have gone much better.
For the opening three months of the year, the Silver Creek graduate was enjoying the greatest season of his three-year National Lacrosse League career.
In August, the University of Virginia graduate was named the Most Valuable Player of the Premier Lacrosse League’s Championship Series.
And on Thanksgiving Day, he welcomed his second daughter to the world.
That is why he does what he does.
Drafted No. 4 overall in the 2017 draft by the Georgia Swarm, Williams was enjoying his best season for Atlanta-based team this spring when the coronavirus pandemic prematurely ended the NLL season.
“I thought our team had a really solid chance of winning it,” he said when reminiscing Thursday afternoon. “A lot can happen in the playoffs, but I thought we had a really good team. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it goes.”
Sent home full of unknowns, Williams returned to Williamsville to hunker down with his wife, Amanda; daughter, Dani; and stepchildren, Noah and Portia.
Then came news that the Premier Lacrosse League would become one of the first professional leagues to play in a COVID-19 world with its Championship Series set for late July and early August at Zions Bank Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“The PLL did an awesome job of communicating with everyone. They told us the whole plan from the start,” Williams said. “I felt good as they were talking, keeping us up on everything and how it was going to go down.”
Williams joined the defending champion Whipsnakes in the seven-team league and became familiar with his new teammates through Zoom calls in the months and weeks leading up to arriving in Utah.
“I knew once I met them over Zoom calls and going through X’s and O’s … that I was going to join a great group of people.”
Once there, the Whipsnakes took off — led by Williams.
They powered through the group stage with a 4-0 record, outscoring opponents, 67-33, in the process.
“I was blessed to go to an awesome team with some awesome players,” Williams said. “I was able to play my position at a high level. I’m confident in myself and know that hard works pays off. I work hard to prepare myself so when the game starts, I’ve already put in the hard work to be there.”
Whipsnakes earned a bye into the semifinals and outlasted Redwoods, 13-12, in overtime to advance to the final.
There, Williams’ team trailed 4-2 at halftime and 6-3 after three quarters before a six-goal fourth quarter led Whipsnakes to a 12-6 victory and their second straight league championship.
“Team-wise, our defense and goalie were keeping us in it. Our offense wasn’t playing up to par, but one goal got us on a roll,” he said. “Me personally, I was upset with myself for not being able to bury a couple of opportunities in the first half. I was mad at myself and lit a fire under my (butt) at halftime.”
A lot of it was credited to Williams, who led the league in goals with 20 and was second to teammate Matt Rambo in scoring with 23 points.
“He’s an awesome dude to be around. He’s one of those guys who brings the whole mood up no matter where you are — eating lunch, in the locker room, on the practice field,” Williams said about Rambo, the 2019 Most Valuable Player. “He has so much confidence in himself and in me and my teammates. He reeks of confidence. … My confidence had a lot to do with him rubbing off on me.”
Broadcast to the world on NBC Sports Network, Williams choked up postgame when he was presented the MVP trophy, which he dedicated to his father Dan, who passed away during Zed’s senior season at the University of Virginia.
“I didn’t know that was going to happen,” he said. “In my opinion, that’s why I play the game I love and try to do it at the highest level I can.”
It’s no surprise Williams became emotional because he does in fact play professional lacrosse not for himself, but for his family.
“Those moments are worth it to me and for my family,” he said. “It felt like it brought my dad back, even if it was for that moment. … If I can do that for my mom and my family, all the hard work is definitely worth it for me.”
After returning home from Utah, he rejoined his family in Williamsville and is now fresh in the middle of the longest period of time in years of not playing competitive lacrosse.
He continues to work out daily — either in his home or at a local gym when it’s allowed to be open — and runs on a treadmill to stay fit. It’s hard to find much turf time to practice lacrosse, but says he keeps on top of his stick work around the house or in the basement just waiting to get back in a competitive setting.
“The hardest thing with lacrosse is being in game shape,” Williams said. “It really doesn’t happen until you play it.”
His return to the game will likely come in March or April when Williams joins the Colorado Mammoth of the NLL. The Swarm traded Williams and a draft pick to the Mammoth in early July and the 6-foot-2 attack generously listed at 185 pounds is looking forward to joining his new team when the time comes.
“They are trying to plan on a training camp in March with the season in April,” he said. “A lot of it depends on the border and with hockey season since we share arenas.”
For now, he’s enjoying a prolonged stay at home with his family, who welcomed new daughter Everli on Thanksgiving Day.
“It’s always a blessing. I can’t really describe it. To have one of your own brought into this world is a feeling I’ll never get sick of,” Williams said. “I just want to be better for them in any way and provide for them. It fuels me every time I get to spend time with them.”
A brother to six and half-brother to three more, family is everything to Williams and he cherishes every moment he has at home with them.
He misses them every time he leaves for a weekend on the road and gets the same feeling inside every time he sees their faces when he returns home.
Family is why he wouldn’t let go of his stick following the PLL championship game in August.
“It’s more than a lacrosse stick. It’s a connection to the Earth and beyond, it’s a connection to his late father,” Matt Kinnear wrote for insidelacrosse.com in August after an interview with Williams. “It’s a conduit to a better life, to support a family and to win championships and to graduate college.”
And it’s for his community.
Just last month, a pair of Gowanda seniors signed national letters of intent to attend NCAA Division I colleges to play women’s lacrosse. Frank Brown, Chase Scanlan, Lyle Warrior and others have followed in Williams’ footsteps and made names for themselves in the lacrosse world after growing up on the Cattaraugus Reservation.
“It’s such an amazing experience for kids and for people in general. You gain so much knowledge going off to college … I can’t even describe it,” he said. “It’s important for kids to strive toward education and wanting to go to college.
“I can’t be any more proud of kids moving on,” Williams added, “and pursuing their dreams of playing lacrosse.”
Those are the ones for whom Williams plays, not himself.