This November 11, the lacrosse community unites to honor the esteemed John Zulberti, a legend in the world of lacrosse. John Zulberti also known as "Coach Z" is one of the most recognizable faces in the game of lacrosse. Coach Z made his mark at Syracuse - known for his skill on the field as well as his swagger with his orange Chuck Taylors, striking beard, and demanding on-field presence. Not only was Coach Z a champion and 4x All-American but he was a coach, a mentor, and a friend.
We sat down with Alex Haskins, the Director of Training and Events for Thunder Lacrosse - one of the most dominant programs in the entire country and home to many of the Southeast's top crop of lacrosse talent to discuss the legacy of Coach Z and his impact on the field and in the hearts of lacrosse players throughout the country.
Honoring A Legacy
What is your relationship with Coach Zulberti? How did you first meet and what was your initial impression of Z?
I first met Coach Z at Meade Field in Peachtree City. It was my first clinic with LB3 PTC. I arrived early and started playing Wall Ball on the wall built for lacrosse there. Coach Z later told me, “I showed up and you're already on the wall, I knew I liked you."
Growing up in Upstate Lacrosse, I was a huge Syracuse Fan. In high school, my teammates and I used to drive the three hours to games. John Zulberti was one of those Syracuse legends you always knew of.
“I showed up and you're already on the wall, I knew I liked you."
How did you two end up coaching together in Georgia? How would you describe him as a coach on the sidelines?
Liam Banks brought us all together. He was one of the first people to bring full-time guys to Georgia to grow and teach the game. Their friendship and bond over Syracuse lacrosse plus the passion for coaching the Attack position really helped grow the game in Georgia.
On the sidelines, Coach Z expected the best out of everyone. He was the first voice you heard if something went wrong, he demanded you to do things correctly. He was infamous for post-game speeches where he let you know what went wrong, how to fix it, and the work you needed to put in. He would also suggest maybe you play the violin if you didn’t want to put the work in to be a great lacrosse player.
What was his coaching style and what impact did he have on the players that he worked with?
Demanding. Coach Z was a no-nonsense guy, if you messed up or did something on the field he was going to let you know. He was also going to let you know how he would have done it, it was tough love.
With the young guys, it was different. I spent countless hours with him at our Thunder Warehouse working with players of all ages. His small details in everything made all the difference. Another great memory was him with our youngest team last fall. 60 minutes with a wild group of 5th graders, completely silent and focused on everything this man said. Those guys will always remember lacrosse story time with Z from when they were 10 years old.
What impact did Coach Z have on his fellow coaches?
Everyone knew Z-Man and everyone had a great story about Z. You couldn’t walk on any lacrosse field at a tournament without multiple people coming up to say hello to Z. Legends of the game would be walking around to find Z. He was bigger than life at these events and college coaches knew his teams were going to be great if he was on the sideline.
With our Thunder coaches now, we talk about “what would Z say” to certain moments and let the kids know what they did wrong. Our offensive coaches are always telling the boys, “this is how Z teaches it.” It’s always about what can we do to continue the legacy of Z-Man. We are going to continue to create new coaches from his former players. The giveback mentality from guys who have spent years with Z-Man, passing his teaching on to the next generation.
How will Coach Z's legacy be remembered across the lacrosse community?
It is going to be different for everyone. Syracuse guys are going to remember the legend of Z man wearing #11, his National Championships, his All-American play in the Dome wearing his Orange Chuck Taylors and him picking apart defenses from X.
The players will remember his demanding presence and how everything he taught them, he could explain in very simple terms, and everything worked! From Attack to Goalies, he knew what to tell everyone.
I think the coaches are going to remember him not just for the lessons on field and how to teach offense but for the man he was away from the field. Someone everyone wanted to be around and hear his stories. I think about Z-Man every day.
"I think the coaches are going to remember him not just for the lessons on field and how to teach offense but for the man he was away from the field. Someone everyone wanted to be around and hear his stories. I think about Z-Man every day."
What impact has Coach Zulberti had on your life and what is one thing that he has taught you that you will carry with you?
Enjoy everything about life. Relationships are what is most important.
What’s something interesting about Coach Z that most readers wouldn’t know?
Here is something everyone should know. He was great at everything he did. From the golf course, to bass fishing, to cards. It didn’t matter, he was going to be the best.
He spent lots of time beating everyone on the golf course. He would hit the ball righty and put lefty. The last picture he sent me was of him on a boat in Florida holding a huge bass fish.
On 11/11, how do you want your players to remember legendary #11, Coach Zulberti?
Hit the wall!
A Lasting Impact
Coach Z will forever be remembered as a legend, a friend to many, and as one of lacrosse's greatest teachers. Coach Zulberti honored the game and instilled that in all of his players. Coach Z played a crucial role in growing the game of lacrosse in the Southeast and made Thunder Lacrosse his home where he coached many of the nation's top lacrosse players. Athletes everywhere recognize Coach Z and the impact he had on their lives.
Learn more about Thunder Lacrosse here.
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