After a career that has spanned 12 years and seven different teams, one of Major League Lacrosse’s most exciting players can walk away with no reservations.
“Part of the main reason I am stepping away now is the fact that I get to step away on my own terms and be okay with how I finished,” said Florida Launch veteran Chazz Woodson.
On a warm April night, a charter bus of weary Launch staffers and players made their way back to Boca Raton. The team’s first game of the season was held in DeLand, Florida as the Launch awaited the completion of FAU Stadium renovations. In that game, the visiting Boston Cannons stole an overtime victory and the home team was sent home – hungrier than ever.
Chazz, occupying a row of the bus’s back seat, laid out his legs in an attempt to get some semblance of comfort during the four hour trek home. He had given his all that day. Every ounce of effort and energy was poured into his play and with a resulting limp in his step – it showed. Despite the pain, he was just happy to be back in the league.
Woodson, 35, left the league in 2014 after being let go from the Launch, by then head coach Stan Ross, in what Woodson refers to as “technically retirement,” but the former Brown University standout knew he still had something left to give.
His phone would not ring in 2014. The athlete in him had unfinished business.
Woodson waited by the phone in 2015 and, again, no GM or coach called.
With the responsibilities of work and assistant coaching varsity lacrosse in Miami, life went on for Chazz in 2016. The league he had given his prime playing days to had moved on without him. Nevertheless, the athlete inside the crafty, 5-foot-10 attackman was still hungry for more.
Instead of waiting, he began to call coaches on his own. One team brushed his inquiries off while another went through coaching changes and went in another direction.
By then, many men would take solace in the fact that they had a lengthy career to begin with. Chazz was not one of these men. Coach Tom Mariano was announced as the Launch’s new head coach in late 2016, suddenly, whether Woodson knew it or not, the opportunity was coming.
After nearly three years of waiting, Chazz’s phone finally rang.
“All I wanted was a fair shake,” he told Mariano. “If you’re going to bring me in do it realistically; look at me as an attackman and an offensive player, someone who can contribute. I don’t have to be a number one guy and I don’t expect to be a number one guy. If I make it then great and if I don’t make it, I don’t make it.”
A maximum of 40 players can be invited to any MLL team’s training camp with only 25 making the final roster and 19 suiting up for game day. As one of just a small handful of players over age 30 present at camp, the chances of him making the active roster looked slim. When the final roster was made public and his name was listed next to some of the league’s best young talent, it was official: Chazz Woodson had done the improbable.
Improbable might be one of the best ways to describe Chazz’s career.
As a highly touted athlete who lettered in football, basketball, and lacrosse in high school, the possibilities seemed endless. As a high school senior in 2001, just before heading to Brown, Chazz watched an exhibition game between two teams in the newly formed MLL. It was then that the idea of playing professionally first crossed his mind.
“If it’s around, I’ll give it a shot,” he said of the league. “By the time I was graduating it was sort of, well, I might as well give it a shot now. As long as I could play and play at the level I was used to playing then I would continue to do so.”
After an impressive career with the Brown Bears, Woodson was selected 19
th overall by the Long Island Lizards in the 2005 MLL Collegiate Draft.
Over the next three seasons, he would change teams twice. First to the Cannons and then to the L.A. Riptide, the latter club seemed to have it all for the young playmaker.
“I was hoping I could play with them until I never played again. It was such a great experience,” he said of his time playing in California. “I enjoyed the organization. I enjoyed playing and the guys I was playing with. If I could have written it up my own way, I would have played there until I retired. Obviously, they folded and that didn’t happen.”
When the Riptide dissolved, it was time to once again start fresh. The next team to sign Chazz was the Chicago Machine. His two year stint in the Windy City proved to be challenging as lingering injuries restricted his usage to just eight games.
After parting ways with the Machine, he headed to the Washington Bayhawks where his play was again limited. For the 2011 season, he would sit out from MLL action and play in the now defunct LXM Pro Tour. He returned to form in 2012 and 2013 with the relocated Ohio Machine. He posted 44 points in 25 games over his two seasons with the Machine. Despite the success, he was let go and later picked up by the Launch in 2014.
Chazz’s first spell with the Launch did not go as he had hoped.
“They brought me on the first two games, I was playing as a defensive midfielder,” he said of the position he had never played professionally. “I’m the guy most coaches tell to get off the field as fast as possible when it comes to defense.”
During his MLL career, Chazz played mostly offensive midfielder and attack. Playing outside of his comfort zone did not work as he was cut after just two games.
“What people may not know is that I was in attackman in high school, attackman in college, and there’s been only two seasons in MLL where I’ve played attack, this year and 2012. As an attackman playing defensive midfielder and get cut for two games, that was little rough and a little difficult to deal with,” he said.
Chazz’s second and final season with the Launch, this time as a pure offensive player, went as well as he could have hoped. With 28 points (20 goals, eight assists), he finished in a tie for third on the team in scoring and helped the Launch reach the franchise’s first playoff berth.
The Launch may not have No. 24 in the fold any longer, but Chazz is far from worried about the direction of the team.
“I think it’s a special group to be honest with you. The locker room reminds me a lot of our locker room in 2012 and our locker room in L.A.,” the veteran said of the emerging team’s talent. “There’s a lot to be said for the chemistry the team has off the field. That means a lot in this league. You’re not together very often. You have to have that camaraderie. Guys have to want to be there and buy in. I saw that with this group. It’s just a bunch of good guys. A lot of that stuff sounds cliché but it’s so important in this league.”
A quality team environment off and on the field is imperative for winning at the highest level. Coach Mariano has engineered a positive shift in the team’s culture – an effect Chazz says has taken hold already.
“Everyone there has bought in with the ‘one ship’ mentality that coach Mariano wants to do,” said Woodson. “It’s a young group that’s talented and special. Making the playoffs was great, but a few more things go our way – we could have been playing for an MLL Championship. We could have won it this year. I don’t think we were that far behind.”
Through all of the trying times and moments where many before him surrendered, Chazz rose again and again until finally, a moment of clarity came.
“So I’m at ease, it’s cool. I can do other stuff now,” he said of his career ending. “You’re never going to see me sign that retirement paper though. The athlete in me won’t let me do that.”