Williams remains close to roots despite move to Rochester
On May 28 Rob Genco and Zed Williams were in two completely different mindsets. Genco, with his iPad in hand and the Twitter app open, was off-and-on refreshing his timeline waiting for Major League Lacrosse’s update on each team’s pick for the 2017 Draft.
Williams, a just-graduated lacrosse player from the University of Virginia and formerly a Silver Creek Knight under Genco, was ranked high in the nine-team league’s prospect board. It was in the third round of the MLL Collegiate 2017 Draft in Boston when the Rochester Rattlers snatched Williams with its 22nd pick.
It was at that moment when Genco was elated, but Williams was unphased — because he didn’t know yet.
“My wife told me I was drafted. I was going to the bathroom and my wife came back and told me,” the recently married Williams said and added, “It is awesome, definitely a good feeling. I didn’t ever think I would be a professional in anything.”
Genco coached Williams throughout his high school athletic career at Silver Creek and has kept up with him ever since.
Williams was a record-smashing Southern Tier athlete in basketball, football and lacrosse. For lacrosse, he was brought up to varsity in the eight grade thanks to his early signs of success. Five years of varsity play helped him make his mark on Silver Creek and high school lacrosse.
“He might be one of the most decorated athletes in Silver Creek history as far as championships,” Genco said.
Behind Williams’ power shot, the high school lacrosse team went to five straight sectional titles and once to the New York State Final Four Round. It was nearly a given that the Black Knights would represent Section VI in its class. At the end of his junior season, Williams made history in scoring the nation’s most points ever, which at the time was 589. Williams later set the bar after his senior year to 729 points.
A staggering 140 points higher than the second best.
Genco and Williams had triumphant times, though the on-the-field accolades did not match the bond that spurred beyond sports.
The separation of Williams graduating and moving to Virginia for schooling didn’t hinder that either. Genco continued to support his former athlete like he does with many that go through his Silver Creek programs.
“He coached me in high school, and he coached me all along in college, too,” Williams said of Genco. “After every game (in college), he would call me and would talk about the game, what I need to do better, how I did. He was always with me the whole time. He’s always here for me. … I just hope I can repay him half the stuff he helped guide me with.”
FROM COACH TO CHEERLEADER
“I became his cheerleader. I didn’t miss a game. I subscribed to the, I think it’s called, the Yahoo! Network, I was on ESPN 3; I didn’t miss a game. My wife was driven crazy because I was trying to watch the iPad. I didn’t miss a game,” Genco said. “At that point, he became more than a former player, he’s family.”
Genco was watching Williams as he was making his way up the stat book in Virginia. Like Williams did when he was at Silver Creek, the college lacrosse player — who plays attack — continued to punish the net. It led to his senior season when he was the first collegiate player in the nation in 2017 to reach the 20-20, 30-30, 40-40 and 50-50 club in points and ground balls, according to Virginia Sports.
Genco would extend his support with his post-game phone calls. Many coaches try to keep a connection with those who graduated, but the difficulty plus the focus on their occupations make it too difficult. The deep-rooted rapport they had led to a phone call never missed and a text never left unread.
The relationship the duo has dates back to when Williams was growing up and as Genco was teaching at Silver Creek Elementary School.
“I’ve been with him since I was like in fourth grade,” Williams said. “He’s always been the gym teacher and a coach and he’s definitely a guy who impacted me and I looked up to as a role model,” Williams said. “He helped guide me to go to school and look at things in a positive way all the time. He has really helped mold and shape how my outlook on life is.”
When Williams was under Genco, the coach would always stress the same ideologies with the team. It may be as stereotypical as ‘find the open man,’ or as personal as the teachings of being an honest human being. Genco has an open door policy of sorts as any player who needs and wants help, he’ll be there.
Some things were ingrained into Williams throughout his teachings. The developing athlete matured into a generous teammate, as well as a vigorous scoring threat in the coach’s eyes.
“He always would give the other guy the layup on a breakaway,” Genco said. “You coach it and you try to make the players buy in to that, but it takes a special player on your team to reinforce that so that the team plays like it. That’s why he is special and why the teams he had in his five years at Silver Creek in every single team — football through lacrosse — he won sectional titles.”
A CHANCE TO GIVE BACK
“I always told Zed that it would be cool if we could play,” Genco said. “A lot of the kids that are on our team were Native American and I knew that they all played box lacrosse.”
Genco never had the convenience of playing high school lacrosse; his school didn’t offer it. Throughout the years of coaching and delving into the sport, Genco felt he had a skillset that could become of something on the field rather than the sideline.
“I’ve been trying to get him to play with me when I come home for summer leagues the past couple of years and I ended up asking him this year again and he said that he wanted to do it,” Williams said. “He’s getting up in age and he has to do it one time. He wants his kids to see him play and I asked the owner.”
Genco’s moment came this summer as Williams made a roster spot for his former coach on the Native Sons Lacrosse Team in Senior B box lacrosse. The possibility to give was once again there for Williams and the recipient this time was Genco.
And when Genco grab his lacrosse stick and suited up, he fit right in with the team.
“I was doing a lot better than anyone expected at 40 years old and I scored a goal. I had a big hit and played well defensively. It was cool,” Genco said of the game. “We shared a moment after the game in the locker room and the coach had some words. And he said, ‘These are all your kids.’ I kind of got emotional and thanked them and the team for accepting me for a game.”
Genco received the game ball for the match. The ball is inked up with the date of the game, what the goal signified and yet, it simply cannot show the appreciation the coach has towards his former player.
Though, Williams found enjoyment not by playing, but seeing his coach take the field.
“It was awesome watching him score and getting the game ball. He deserves it and he brought up the mood,” Williams said. “Just having him on the team, he made everyone smile, he made everyone happy and laugh. That’s what he does all the time, especially when he is with me and my brothers.”
Williams admitted it was a tough time for the group as Williams returned to Irving to play on the Native Sons team. His older brother John played with the team and the Williams family as a whole was coping with the recent loss of their father. Their father was someone who had a solidified spot on the sideline to watch his kids play.
“We had trouble when our dad passed away and our dad was there every single game. Genco brought everyone up,” Williams said of the game they played together. “I wish he would play every game with us.”
As of late, Williams is recovering from an ankle injury that he endured during a Rattlers game. He is currently in a walking boot, but expects a full recovery for next season. The Rochester Rattlers lost to the Denver Outlaws in an Aug. 12 semifinal matchup.
For Genco, he looks to further his bonds with his new and current players as well as keeping in contact with those who graduated. With Williams, however, it is a relationship that progressed into naming his former player a godfather of one of his children, separating time out of his day to grab his iPad and watch him play and simply being a part of the family.
“In Zed’s case, I am welcome in their family’s home,” Genco said. “They call me, they use me as a reference. His sister asked me to refer a builder to her (as my job is in the field). It’s kind of like, I develop relationships when I coach, with Zed especially, and I developed a relationship with their family. … So I’ve been there for him. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“I have five full brothers,” Williams added, “and three half-brothers and Genco, he’s right in there with my brothers. He’s helped me become a young adult. I am still young and still learning. He helped me with some life lessons in my life and stuff I really need.”