Stoic Superstar Willie Grieco Equal Parts Unassuming and Lethal

PHOTO COURTESY OF WINGATE ATHLETICS

Willie Grieco's 113 points last spring came with an uncommon split of 67 assists and 46 goals.


A shortened version of this article appears in the January edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join our momentum.

Willie Grieco looks like the guy you want your daughter to date. He has soft features, speaks well and is entirely wholesome. But looks can be deceiving.

Because this man is a baby-faced assassin on the lacrosse field.

“That is a very apt description,” Wingate offensive coordinator Seth Grimwood said. “He’s got a little bit of facial hair right now, but yes — I think calling him a baby-faced assassin is very apt.”

You would be hard-pressed to find a player whose appearance belies his ability to absolutely shred opposing defensemen. His 113 points came with an uncommon split of 67 assists and 46 goals. But statistics only tell so much of how a player impacts the game. 

The Lawrenceville, Georgia, native is one of the most feared attackmen in Division II because he is so balanced in his offensive output. If pass-first attackmen are out of style, no one told Grieco. He can split into a roll and send a defenseman sailing downward into a turf-pellet buffet and then make a cross-cage pass or bury the rock himself.  

“He is the number one facilitator we have,” Wingate head coach Tim Boyle said. “But when he came as a freshman, he was so much more of an assist guy. He was always just trying to get the ball to other people. We worked with him over these last couple of years to have him turn into a goal scorer. It was funny because, at times, it would look from my angle, that he’d be passing up a shot to get the ball to somebody else. He’s always been the unselfish guy that wants to get everybody else involved. He plays so methodically — he’s got a burst of speed, he’s got power, but you can tell that his brain is in line with his speed and his skills. So everything seems fluid, everything seems … effortless.” 

Last season, Grieco scored at least once in every game and was held to one point just once all season — a 10-5 loss to Lenoir-Rhyne. The Bears were one of the only teams to get a handle on Grieco, and they did so by faceguarding him and denying him the ball. But that only works for so long. The Bulldogs can absolutely rip apart teams in transition, where Grieco’s unselfish tendencies thrive. 

“I was — I am — a grinder type of coach,” Boyle said. “I came from the pre-shot clock era. I’m the kind of guy that didn’t like turnovers. The more turnovers we had, the more anxious I would get. So you look at those scores, you see us losing games 9-8, winning games 10-9. Then Willie and Coach Grimwood come, and now we average over 15 goals a game. I started to loosen the reins and let the guys play more. A little faster, a little looser. When you get a guy like [Willie], you start to feel a little more free to let kids play, let things evolve. With Will, our offense is much much more read and react instead of scripted.”







Grieco is the kind of player who rarely gets knocked down, but he still makes a play from his back when he does. Part of that is because he can bench 285 pound and squat over 400. He grew two inches between his freshman and sophomore years but retained his quickness as he gained strength. His work ethic and the training regime have gotten him to this point.

“He’s not taking a bucket of balls and doing 100 step downs,” Grimwood said. “He’s dodging full speed every rep. He is drenched in sweat by the time he’s done because he’s doing things that are applicable to his game rather than just going out there and shooting a couple of dozen times and calling it a day. He’ll bring down one of our finishers, or one of our shooters, and he’ll dodge from behind full speed just to feed them. He’s a very fundamental player.”

But what does that even mean in the modern game? 

Grieco scores with vision and body feints, and it has proven to be more effective than a single stick fake. The body control that Grieco has is what makes him so dangerous. There are dozens of players who can dodge, pass and score, but the ability to absorb contact and move unimpeded to space is how Grieco stands out. 

You can’t double him early because he will just dish through the slide. You can try to faceguard him as Lenoir-Rhyne did, but then you have to put your quickest defender on him to match feet. You can’t let him go to work at X or on the low wing because he will consistently make a cleaving pass that will open up the defense. Behind the cage, he’s a hang-up artist. If a defenseman isn’t in his hip pocket when he receives the ball behind the cage, it’s already too late. Either the pass has been made to a cutter, or Grieco is already turning the corner at goal-line-extended.

Last season, the Bulldogs were stifled by teams that really forced them to play in the six-on-six on both sides of the ball. It’s not that Wingate is a counter-attacking team; it’s that other teams have to counter its attack. It’s a furious blend of chaotic off-ball movement and crisp passing through back-turned defenses led by Grieco. A two-pass goal is good, a three-pass goal is even better, but a four-pass goal? That is what is best in life. 

“Lacrosse is obviously a very fast sport,” Grieco said. “Most of the time, you get a ton of opportunities. Mistakes happen. We try to always emphasize having short memories because you can’t let one turnover in the first quarter affect the next three quarters. Someone has to initiate the offense. I love dodging and getting things going in the offense.”

With two years of eligibility left, Grieco hopes to fulfill the goal of any high-caliber lacrosse player: win a national championship.

“We have to get the conference back,” Grieco said. “Obviously, everyone has the same goal on the team, which is to win a national championship. But there are checkpoints; we have jobs to do.”

“Will is all about the work,” Grimwood said. “His idea of a perfect game is zero goals and eight assists. That would be great for him. He’s changed his game a little bit, but he’s still a facilitator at heart. He’s stoic. He wants to lead by example, and he’s all about the work. He’s a killer out there.”

An assassin, if you will.

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