By GIB SNYDER III
OBSERVER Sports Reporter
Opposing football, basketball and lacrosse coaches breathed a huge sigh of relief Friday night when Zeddie Williams was awarded his high school diploma from Silver Creek Central School.
Silver Creek’s Zeddie Williams graduated Friday night, ending one of the most memorable high school athletic careers in Western New York history.
No longer will he be able to terrorize their teams on the gridiron, hard court or lacrosse field.
Now, Williams will take his talents to the University of Virginia, where he will play lacrosse for the Cavaliers on a full scholarship.
"It gives you pause," Silver Creek head football coach Sean Helmer said of Williams' athletic ability. "He does all the things that you're supposed to do. He's selfless, he works hard, he has more of a will to win than anybody, but at the same time he's a good teammate and a good friend. You don't see that that often, all those qualities in one kid."
Williams' now former coaches have the task of replacing a seemingly irreplaceable player who had one of the best - if not the best - varsity careers of any high school athlete in Western New York history.
"It will be real weird," Helmer said. "I think it will be tough on his little brother (Sherman). It will be the first time he doesn't have him there to tell him what to do, or yell at him if he's not working hard enough. And I think it is time for Sherman to take over a little bit, but it will be different for all of the coaches, that's for sure, because (Zeddie) brings something different in every sport. He's a guy that we all love, so we just wish the best for him."Despite not winning a state title, Williams' list of accomplishments is staggering. He helped his teams win seven Section 6 titles and earn two wins in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association's Far West Regional round, including this past winter when he helped the Black Knights' basketball team to the NYSPHSAA Class C Final Four.
"In the offseason he's never not playing basketball or not playing lacrosse," Silver Creek head basketball and assistant lacrosse coach Rob Genco said. "He plays those two sports year-round."
Individually, Williams has been named as an All-American the last two seasons by U.S. Lacrosse, while also being named this school year First Team All-State in football (Class D defensive team), basketball (Class C) and lacrosse (Class C). He was also named one of the top 50 boys' basketball players in the state by the Basketball Coaches Association of New York.
"It's like losing a friend," Genco said. "But I want him to go away and I've told him that. It's like your little brother moving away and going to college. It will be tough not having him around. I'm going to miss him. I'm going to miss our conversations and going out to dinners with him and giving him advice."
Aside from the national and state honors he's earned, Williams has been named to the All-Western New York lacrosse team the last three seasons - the last two as a member of its First Team - and as a honorable mention All-WNY football player. And to top off his senior year, he was named the recipient of the Nathan George Foundation's top scholarship for being the best male athlete in Chautauqua County while also recently being named the winner of the Tom Borrelli Award as the top high school lacrosse player in Western New York.
"He's just fun to be around," Helmer said. "He makes everything better. If things aren't going well, he doesn't come up with excuses, he doesn't blame anyone, he just plays harder. He practices harder and he just enjoys games, he enjoys sports. Whatever it is, he just plays it as hard as he can. And I really appreciated that and I appreciate what he's done for our school and hopefully for a generation of kids behind him."
To earn all the awards and accolades he has, Williams had to amass some serious statistics. And, over the course of the last five years on the lacrosse field, he did just that, as he is now the presumed national record holder for goals scored (444) and points (728) in a career. Williams is also second in school history with 1,240 points scored on the hardwood while rushing for 1,000 yards during football season.
"He was born with ability," Genco said. "There's a certain level of it that you can't teach and I think for him to be at the level he's at, it's the hard work that he's put into it. He's never not playing something. If he's not playing field lacrosse, he's driving up to Canada (to play box lacrosse). And if we had a night off we'd practice until 5:30 or 6 and then he'd be off to play in a basketball game."
Just looking at the shear breadth of Williams' accomplishments - no matter the sport - it's easy to see why his coaches will miss him when he's gone.
"I'm going to miss him," Genco reiterated. "I always tell my son he's my best friend. There's nothing wrong with a kid being your best friend. And I think it's safe to say that (Zed) is one of my best friends."
When asked what makes Williams as special an athlete as he is, both Helmer and Genco made it clear that what sets him apart - aside from the athletic ability he was born with - is the hard work he puts in during practice and at home.
"I think that's part of what makes him great," Helmer said. "He doesn't want to hang around at the house. When he has the opportunity to go play something, or go to practice, he'd rather do that."
"I've always said that I've never been around a kid that's as conditioned," Genco continued. "He can maintain a high level from the first quarter, the first period to the end of the game. He's as fast and as strong in the fourth (quarter) as he is in the first. It's just unbelievable. It's almost like he gets stronger and faster as the game goes on."
Helmer, who is also Silver Creek's athletic director, thought it was clear which sport was Williams' best.
"I think it's got to be," Helmer said of whether or not lacrosse is Williams' best sport. "I think personally, I think he could have played at a small Division I football program. He has all the characteristics and athletic ability to play strong safety at college. And he loves basketball and I think he could have played at a Division II level there, but obviously when you get a full ride for lacrosse, it's apparent that can do something special.
"He got recruited by (the University at Buffalo) and other places that got off him quickly," Helmer continued. "Just because they knew (he was going to play lacrosse). We tried to be as upfront and honest with those guys to let them know. They still pursued Zeddie, but I think they kind of knew they didn't have a chance."
Genco had a slightly different opinion.
"I've always thought football was right up there with lacrosse," Genco said. "I think had he been on a bigger team where he didn't have to be a quarterback, a receiver, a running back, if he could have been just a tailback in a pro-style system, he reminded me a lot of a Marcus Allen-type of runner. So I could have seen him play at a high level in football or lacrosse. I kind of saw him as a football player first and then in lacrosse, the things he started doing on the field, set him aside from anyone else that we've ever seen."
All of his athletic prowess not withstanding, both Helmer and Genco noted that Williams' best attribute is not something you can't train for on the field or in the weight room.
"I think his best attribute is the person that he is and the type of head he has on his shoulders," Genco said. "As well as being a person that cares about other people and getting the big picture about what's important in life."
Genco was also quick to note that Williams was not always as pleasant a young man as he turned out to be.
"He was tough to deal with when he was a little guy," Genco noted. "He was squirrelly. I was constantly sitting him out in time outs and sending him to the principal's office, so he had a lot of growing up to do. But he had a great family and we knew that they'd keep him on track, but we knew real early that he was going to be real special."
Williams has left an indelible mark on the high school sports landscape over the last five years, but Genco knows that there are still some things he needs to work on if he plans on having the same success for his new head coach Dom Starsia and his Cavaliers.
"He can play at the next level the way he is," Genco said. "But he knows that if he wants to excel and be one of the top players in the country at the next level, he really needs to develop that off-hand. Everything else ... He's coachable, he's a good kid and he gets it.
"He'll have his own position coach," Genco continued. "He'll be in the weight room and that's another thing he needs to work on. He does a lot of training in terms of agility and working. He does that in his front yard, but now he'll have to hit the weights, so it will be interesting to see how he develops over the next four years."