ZAC Williams has said it from day one.
Along with his mother, nobody has had a bigger impact on his life - whether as a footballer or otherwise - than his late sister Sammy.
It’s been well-documented how difficult of a year 2023 was for Carlton’s No.6. It was 12 months ago when Williams ruptured his ACL on the Blues’ Sunshine Coast training camp, but it was as he was undergoing his rehab when life took another turn.
Sammy had been undergoing cancer treatment for a number of years. Then, in June, Sammy passed away, with the whole Carlton family - both inside the four walls and outside - wrapping their arms around the Williams family.
Zac plans on honouring his late sister not only when he makes his long-awaited return to action, but for the whole year, as he rans around in the colours which both siblings loved when growing up.
“I know she’s still here with me when I run out to play. That first game back, whenever it is, I’ll definitely be wearing a black arm band for her — and I’ll probably do it all year to be honest, take her out there with me,” Williams told the Summer Sessions podcast.
“My sister played a big part in getting me to where I am today. I’ve mentioned in other interviews, my mum and my sister played a big part in my life: my dad passed away when I was very young, so I had two strong women to push me in the direction I needed to go.
“We grew up going for Carlton. My dad was a massive Carlton supporter, so I don’t know if we had any choice on the matter!
“To have Sammy around at the time [of his Carlton debut in 2021], she was fighting her battle at that time, so to be able to share those moments with her through those last few years and have her come down to the change rooms, even having her put on a Carlton scarf and being part of it all, it was pretty special.”
Williams also farewelled his grandmother late last year, and didn’t have the release of being able to play football for his boyhood club to take his mind off everything that was going on from a personal standpoint.
Come the end of the year, he was looking to dive head first into anything he could, whether it was attacking his slow road back to rehabilitation or working with his teammates as they mounted the unlikeliest of surges to a preliminary final.
The way Williams and long-time partner Rachel started off the year, getting married in the opening few weeks of January, was the perfect way to signal a new dawn.
Their daughter Ayla’s second birthday party over the weekend was pretty big, too.
“New year, new me, and bigger and better things will come this year I think,” he said with a smile.
“It was tough, not having that release. A lot of boys within the AFL use playing football as a getaway once they got onto the field. Everything else goes to the back of your mind, you can go out there and be free.
“I was training and flying in last year’s pre-season. When it got taken away from me, especially watching the boys have their struggles but then come out after the bye and play finals, I very quickly started missing it.
“I had a pretty tough year, but footy clubs are an amazing support system with the amount of teammates, coaching staff and even staff around the Club who were great for me last year in terms of the support and phone calls to and from home. If I didn’t have everyone here within the football club, it would’ve made things a lot tougher.
“I definitely use it all as motivation to get better and play some great footy this year.”
Williams’ drive and determination is unquestionable. Taking one look out on the track, it’s easy to see why so many teammates are excited by the prospect of playing with the dynamic defender once again.
And the feeling is mutual.
For when it comes to Williams’ purpose, his response to the question ‘why do you play football?’ is as meaningful as they come.
“I think it’s pretty self explanatory. I’ve had a lot go in the last 12 months.
“Growing up, I wouldn’t be playing football if it wasn’t for my sister. I definitely play football for my family, and now I’ve got a family of my own. The meaning of playing footy for my family has gone to a whole other level.
“Also, I just love it. I love footy. It’s what I want to do.
“Last year, it got taken away from me with my injury. My family is a big reason why, but I also just love coming into the Carlton Football Club, pulling on the Navy Blue and playing football.”