After 32 years coaching Andover Football, four New England Championship titles, and 14 years as Director of Athletics, Head Coach Leon Modeste, also known as “Coach Mo,” will retire at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year.
Since receiving his first set of pads and helmet as a Christmas gift from his parents at the age of seven, football has played a central role in Modeste’s life. Modeste first began playing competitively in seventh grade at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, N.Y. He went on to captain Poly Prep’s championship team alongside longtime friend and coworker Louis Bernieri, Defensive Coordinator and Instructor in English .
“[Modeste and I] were captains of our championship high school football team, Poly Prep, in Brooklyn, N.Y. So, when it comes to football, we can finish each other’s sentences,” said Bernieri.
Following his high school career, Modeste played at the collegiate level at Springfield College, where again served as captain. Prior to working at Andover, he coached football at Poly Prep and later at Columbia University.
After learning about Andover through Bernieri, Modeste interviewed for a position as Football Coach and Instructor in Athletics in the fall of 1985 and began working at Andover a year later. Although initially considering his position at Andover a temporary job, Modeste said he found himself fascinated by the unique experience of coaching at Andover and decided to stay.
Modeste said, “I didn’t know anything about [Andover], really, but when I got here I was blown away by the fact that the kids lived here. The schools I’d worked at were all day schools, so the component of having kids that you get to really know and having the kids get to really know you, because you’re there 24/7, was really intriguing to me. I said I was going to do it for a year or two and then go back to Brooklyn, but that didn’t happen, and I’m glad I stayed. It’s been a wonderful career and a great place to work.”
According to Modeste, the uniquely intimate atmosphere of the team and the relationships that form because of this proximity remain his favorite parts of coaching at Andover.
“My favorite part about coaching is the camaraderie — the camaraderie of the coaches and the kids. I can’t explain it, other than to say it feels familial. It’s like a family when you’re out there. Long bus rides home after losses and long bus rides home after wins, it doesn’t get old, and it’s a really special time. When we get on a bus to some place to play a game, it’s like your family is going on an outing. The relationships that you develop between the players and the coaches, I think that’s the most important thing that we do,” said Modeste.
Modeste’s extensive experience both as a player and a coach, paired with his rich enthusiasm for the sport, makes him a powerful motivator in terms of both football and life, according to Co-Captain Will Litton ’19 and Magnus Voge PG ’19.
In an email to The Phillipian, Litton wrote, “Coach Mo’s passion is contagious. The team sees how much emotion and energy he puts into every practice and game, and it gets us fired up. He also notices tendencies of our opponents and we try to use that to our advantage when we design our game plan.”
Voge said, “Coach Mo is a coach that you can tell has a ton of experience with football… He is great at knowing what to expect and what is necessary to succeed, and he is great at voicing that to us players. He’s really great at relaying his knowledge to us players and also modifying the way we play depending on what opponent we’re up against, who’s healthy, and just in terms of what has and has not been working. He’s also a coach that tells it to you how it is, but he tells it in a way that helps to motivate you to become a better player and a better person.”
Above all, Modeste aspires to instill the values of integrity, gratitude, and Andover’s Non Sibi spirit among his players.
Modeste said, “I hope that I teach players to be good people. I would hope that I’m teaching my guys to display character, to have humility, and to be so grateful that they get a chance to play with each other, because football doesn’t last long. A lot of sports you can play — I mean, you can play pick-up basketball when you’re 90 years old — but football, it ends. So, to appreciate the game, to appreciate what the person on the other team is going through, whether we’re winning or losing, and just to be a good person and to be selfless.”
Modeste continued, “Football is the perfect Non Sibi game because you can’t play it by yourself. No one guy is going to win. One of the things I’ve always been grateful to Andover is that Andover’s motto of Non Sibi is the perfect thing for any team, because a team is not about ‘me,’ it’s about ‘us.’ ”
According to Bernieri and Graham Archer ’21, Modeste has been successful in achieving these goals.
“Leon’s concept of coaching is that coaches are educators first. Sportsmanship, character, selflessness, and friendship are more important than winning. He cares about his players as people and students first, athletes second,” Bernieri wrote in an email to The Phillipian.
Archer added, “My favorite part about Coach Mo is that he is not only a phenomenal coach, but he is also a man of character and integrity, which he instills in us. The players on the team not only learn and grow as athletes and teammates but also as people.”
Modeste’s leadership and care for his players and students will be greatly missed, according to colleague Michael Kuta, Head Athletic Trainer and Instructor in Athletics, and Co-Captain Michael Thompson ’20.
Kuta said, “[Modeste] emphasizes that from top to bottom every kid matters, and every program in the Athletic Department matters. The commonality in all of it is that he wants to make athletics at Andover fun. He’s the best, and we’re going to miss him next year.”
In an email to The Phillipian, Thompson wrote, “He’s an awesome role model, and he has a tried and true plan to make us become better as a team, which makes us better teammates, which makes us better as individual players. I am going to miss Coach Mo’s voice saying, ‘Let’s Go Blue!’ and ‘Let’s Have a Day!’ ”
Although he will be gone next year, Modeste says he is optimistic for the future of Andover Football.
Modeste said, “This is a young team, and we knew this is a rebuilding year, and the kids are getting better each day. We won our first game, we lost two other games to two really good teams, and we played a really good team on Saturday — we lost, but we were in it. Still, the kids are getting better. We’re starting a lot of Lowers, and moving down the road, after I leave, Coach [Trey] Brown [Admission Counselor] will take over. He’s going to have some good players. He’s got some good kids in the pipeline. So, I’m confident Andover Football is in good hands.”