As the first black player and Captain of the Poly Preparatory team, Head Coach Leon Modeste has seen football transform into a game built on the foundations of diversity and community. His career spans decades — Coach Modeste began playing football in the seventh grade, has served as Andover Football’s Head Coach since 1987, and has overseen many championship wins.
Coach Modeste said, “I played football at Springfield College, coached football back at Poly and then at Columbia University, and then I came here. It’s been a great run. I love the game and I know that people are working to make it safer and that’s great. [Football has] always been, I think, one of the most diverse games.”
Modeste said the sport’s diversity is what has continued to inspire him and his passion for the game.
“In a lot of the other sports, you see a certain type of person. [In] football, you see all kinds of people from different backgrounds, different regions, different colors. That’s why I love it. You really need everybody to be working on the same page, with the same mission, like any great team,” said Coach Modeste. “On my football team when I first got to Poly, I was the only black guy. I was the first black captain, but that was showing Poly was changing, it was becoming a more diverse school, and you see that here [at Andover as well].”
“Our football team is very diverse, you look at the Patriots, it’s very diverse. Football, of all the pro sports, is the most diverse. You’re just playing for the same color jersey, and I’d say our team, we always call it a band of brothers and we always call it a family. Football is family. Because you need to rely on the guy next to you. You need to rely on the coach next to you, right to the managers, it’s all a unit,” said Coach Modeste.
Coach Modeste works to create a strong community of athletes using Andover’s motto, ‘Non Sibi.’ He said that upon his arrival, Coach Modeste was immediately inspired to use this message as a motto for the team.
“When I came to Andover… they told me that the school’s motto is ‘Non Sibi,’ well that should be every team in the world’s motto. We have it on our jerseys because what could be better than that for a team. If that’s the school value, then that’s my team value, and they’re gonna live by that code. It might be the best life code that there is- not for self. It’s about the community, it’s about the team, it’s about the class, it’s not just about me,” said Coach Modeste.
For newcomer Will Litton ’19, the importance Coach Modeste places on ‘Non Sibi’ allowed him to quickly adjust to the team.
Litton said, “As a new player, one of my biggest worries was being able to adjust to a new coaching style. This worry was quickly put to rest as Coach Mo values a good relationship with his players and encourages us to ask questions and discuss strategy with him. He stresses team unity and he empathizes that we must work together for a common goal: to play for each other, not ourselves.”
Coach Modeste sees his players as not only athletes, but also as students and leaders of the team. He said he trusts his players’ calls, and relies on their knowledge as the people on the field.
“I get to know my kids and I also allow my kids to own the game, own the game plan. My days of playing are over, so if my quarterback sees something, I don’t care if it’s our Post-Graduate or our [Lower], I’m gonna trust him. I’m gonna trust he’s made a decision based on his knowledge of the game and we’re gonna go and run behind him,” said Coach Modeste.
According to Co-Captain Adam Cohen ’18, Coach Modeste’s leadership and trust have allowed him to serve as a better captain and to develop as a player.
“When I first came here, he really showed me a lot of technical help. He told me that I was going to have to play starting linebacker in the first game and I didn’t think I was quite prepared for that, so he showed me how to look at the offenses. I didn’t really know much about the game, but he’s really helped me get better,” said Cohen.
Modeste’s trusting leadership and guidance also extends beyond the field. He stresses that each and every player is more than just an athlete, according to Litton.
“Coach Mo helps us all the time but a specific moment that comes to mind was when he gave me advice for a history class. He truly believes that was are student athletes not athlete students. He always says ‘What we do off the field is more important than what we do on it,’” said Litton.
For Coach Modeste, one of his favorite parts of being a coach is the feedback he receives years later from the many players he’s mentored over the years.
Coach Modeste said, “The thing that every old coach likes is when you get emails and letters from your old players, 25 years later, [about] how you affected their lives in a positive way. You know that’s the bread, that’s the icing on the cake and it happens, and it happens out of clear blue you’ll get an email from a kid you haven’t even thought of for awhile, and he’ll say ‘coach I really want to thank you’ and they’ll remember little events that I won’t remember, but it really helped them focus on something. A lot of times, it’s not even in the game of football, it’s in the game of life. So that’s when your heart is really warm.”