MILTON — Jesse Davis waited quietly in front of the Wellesley High team bus as his players began to board. He had just watched the Raiders lose 34-28 to previously winless Milton, a rival in the Bay State Conference’s Herget Division, and he knew they had work to do.
To get over that game and prepare for the next — Friday night at Walpole — would be a challenge, but Davis took the head coaching job last spring ready to embrace difficult moments.
Wellesley was 2-9 last season, and participation in the football program had dwindled in recent years. As soon as Davis was hired, he decided that one of his first tasks as coach would be to try to rekindle interest in the sport. He simply needed more athletes.
Within the walls of the high school, Davis became an aggressive recruiter. Working out of the school’s special education department, he had the chance to walk into classrooms to chat with prospective players or track them down during their lunch periods. If they weren’t planning on playing football, he tried to sell them on the sport, explaining to them what their roles on the team might be.
Wellesley athletic director John Brown said Davis even went door to door, visiting students at their homes in order to convince them that football was a worthwhile pursuit.
With 63 on the roster, the team has 25 more players than it did last fall.
“There’s a ways to go, I’m not saying we have it fixed, but we’re starting in that direction,” Brown said. “He’s done a great job. He’s got tremendous passion for it, and I can’t say enough good things about what he’s done to turn our program around, and get our kids excited about playing football.”
He had seen Davis work like this before.
Davis took over the fledgling Wellesley wrestling program in 2008 when it had only nine participants. Since then, with Davis in charge, the team’s popularity has boomed. Last year it had 62 members.
Though demanding and unafraid to let his players know when they have erred, the enthusiasm with which Davis runs his programs has been contagious.
“I think he’s always just been good at motivating players and making them feel like what they’re doing is important,” said senior captain Will Dario , who also wrestles for Wellesley. “As long as I’ve been in high school he’s been running 6 a.m. lifts all winter for the football team. That he can get kids in there and get them willing to work out that early, that far away from the season, it shows he does a good job of making the players see how important it is and how it’s going to benefit them.”
Davis graduated from Wellesley High in 1999 after helping lead the Raiders to the Super Bowl in his senior year. He also received the team’s Jordan E. Sax Memorial Award for demonstrating “courage, a love for the game, respect for his opponents, dedication, kindness, and compassion.”
He has found a natural fit in coaching at his alma mater, but he wasn’t always set on returning to diagram plays on a white board.
After graduating from high school, Davis went to Norwich University and played football there. He stayed for one year before enlisting in the Marines in 2000. In 2003, he was deployed to Iraq with the Second Battalion Eighth Marines for the first nine months of the war as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The hours of downtime during his deployment gave Davis a chance to think of how he might be able to give back to the community that he felt had provided him with so much in high school. His football coaches — Andy Levin , Bill Tracey, and Mike Mastro — taught him the values that he used every day as a Marine, like what it meant to be a part of a team, and how to trust the person next to you to do his job. Davis hoped to return to Wellesley to repay their efforts.
In 2005, his military service complete, Tracey offered Davis the chance to become a volunteer coach for the football team, instructing wide receivers and linebackers.
Readjusting to life at home after his deployment had been difficult, but Davis found relief in coaching.
“It didn’t take very long for me to figure out that this is what I wanted to do,” he said. “It was the one thing that helped me. The adjustment was not easy, and it was . . . what made the transition much easier, having something to focus on that I was passionate about.”
Seven years later, after one year as defensive coordinator, Davis took over for Tracey, who stepped down after 10 seasons at the helm.
At 2-3 after last weekend, Wellesley has already matched its win total of a year ago, but Davis is focused on more than the team’s record as he develops the program and guides it forward.Continued...