Skip to main content

Chazz Woodson Is Molding the Next Generation of Black Lacrosse Players

The former pro’s career led him back home to Virginia and Hampton University, where he coaches the only active Division I program at an HBCU.
Former professional lacrosse player and current college coach Chazz Woodson.

Former Major League Lacrosse All-Star Chazz Woodson now coaches for Hampton University in Virginia. 

To elementary school students at Ransom Everglades School in Miami, he was Mr. Woodson. To the lacrosse community, he was Chazz: former high school All-American, two time Major League Lacrosse All-Star and frequent feature on SportsCenter’s top 10 list.

To the current roster of the Hampton University Pirates men’s lacrosse team, he is Coach Woodson, sometimes Coach Chazz. To everyone, he is the head coach of the only active Division I men’s lacrosse team at an HBCU.

But Chazz is so much more than his job title. He always has been.

“The way I see my profession or career is as a mentor and motivator, athletics happens to be a vehicle that I've been able to use to do that, Hampton lacrosse is the make and model of that vehicle,” Woodson says.

Hampton University entered the Division I men’s lacrosse world in 2015, but Woodson wasn’t brought on until 2020. Woodson’s current head coaching stint followed his multifaceted collegiate and professional career. Woodson played lacrosse at Brown University, picking up two All-Ivy League selections, scoring 71 goals in 54 games and serving as captain his senior year. A third-round draft pick in the 2005 MLL draft set the stage for Woodson’s professional career. He played for seven different teams from 2005-17, finishing with 113 goals and 50 assists, all while teaching full-time in Miami during his off season.

MLL started when Woodson was in college, giving him a pioneering role in the newly formed league. Across his pro career Woodson noticed there was a common trend of young children filling the stands. He wanted to take advantage of their eagerness and further expose them to the game of lacrosse.

Woodson grew up in Norfolk, just across from the four lane, 3.5-mile-long Hampton Roads bridge to Hampton’s campus. Diversity in lacrosse was never high. Woodson didn’t have Black lacrosse players playing at a high level to look up to throughout his youth. According to 2021 data from the NCAA lacrosse continues to lack diversity, with as only 3% of male D-I lacrosse players are Black. Numbers were even slimmer in the late ‘90s when Woodson was perfecting his craft.

A foundational piece of who Woodson has always been lies in his desire to give back, so when he was given the opportunity to diversify lacrosse and connect others through the sport, it felt like a no-brainer.

Woodson went to his friend and teammate Rick Burton, whom he met on the field in his first few years living in Florida. People saw Burton play club lacrosse in his free time, and wondered if he knew Woodson.

“Me being a Black guy playing lacrosse, of course everybody is like ‘Well you know we have another Black guy that plays as well,’” Burton says.

Once Burton Googled Woodson to find out what the hype was about, a friendship formed and community building began. It started with the pair holding clinics before or after games, something to expose the game to the kids, then it expanded. One evening in Little Haiti, Fla., Woodson and Burton brought out a goal, sticks, and couldn’t help but laugh at the children’s question: “are you playing cricket?”

Boston Cannons attack Chazz Woodson (3) drives on goal during second half action against New Jersey Pride.

Attack Chazz Woodson during his time with the Boston Cannons.

The two’s work continued and expanded, creating more opportunities for youth in underrepresented communities to come together. By October 2013, Woodson—along with the No. 1 draft pick from his draft class, Kyle Harrison—started Sankofa Lacrosse, an organization with a goal of connecting the Black lacrosse community.

USA Lacrosse’s Eboni Preston-Laurent reached out to Woodson, asking if he would be interested in a partnership that would expand Sankofa’s reach. The merger created what is now the Sankofa Clinic Series.

“Not only did I want to give that back but I wanted to make sure more kids who looked like me had access to the sport and access to the opportunities that [lacrosse] brings,” Preston-Laurent says.

Burton actively serves as one of many Sankofa clinicians, traveling around the country putting on free clinics for young and future lacrosse players. Woodson’s founder and clinician dual title had to be simplified given the time commitment of his new position at Hampton.

Woodson never planned on becoming a college head lacrosse coach, though if he considered a job it would have to fit his three criteria. First, the job would have to be in a place he could see himself living.

Woodson’s introduction to lacrosse began just 15 minutes from Hampton; it was home. His father, Ed, brought his family to Norfolk from Sacramento in March 1986. Ed’s sister, who was a professor at Virginia Wesleyan University right next to Norfolk Academy, introduced them to the area. Chazz spent first through 11th grade there.

The second criteria was crucial: his position had to be at an HBCU. Woodson expressed interest in Hampton’s coaching gig in 2015 and 2019. When things finally clicked in 2020, it was at a time Woodson could fully immerse himself in the head coaching experience

Finally, Woodson wanted a program he could mold, influence and empower.

“If you look at what [Woodson] has done for us this year, and compare it to any D-I coach, hands down he has done more than any other coach has done … he really cares about all of us,” Ian Groom, a midfielder and the Pirates’ captain, says.

Woodson’s lengthy teaching career, quality professional performance and inspirational nonprofit work happened all at once. Now, his focus is geared toward Hampton. Two of Woodson’s current players spend the off season working with young kids, just like Woodson did. Owen James coaches swimming and Wilmer Leon IV coaches eighth grade lacrosse. The two recognized the root of their coaching philosophy was entirely what they’ve learned from Woodson.

“Ultimately, this game is going to be around long after me, there are going to be people doing the work long after me, I am just happy to know I contributed,” Woodson says.

More NCAA Coverage: