FOXBORO, Mass (WGGB) — Western Massachusetts has had its share of people who have gone on to join the professional coaching ranks.
Chicopee’s Gary St. Jean and Springfield’s Vinny Del Negro to the NBA, and West Springfield’s Leo Durocher went on to manage four different major league teams.
So imagine playing a sport you love your entire life, and then one day getting the chance to coach a professional team. That life long dream was realized on Wednesday by Longmeadow’s Jay Heaps.
Jays been a winner every step of the way, and Wednesday took one giant step into his future.
“There hasn’t been a time on the field, as a players for nine years here, when I didn’t want to win for this family or win for this organization,” said Jay Heaps. “To me that meant everything to me.”
Eleven seasons of MLS soccer and three hundred and four games played. From the leagues Rookie of the Year to Wednesday’s announcement that he’d be taking over the reigns of the New England Revolution, Jay Heaps has always been a winner.
“I think of three things about what a coach need to be at this level,” said Heaps. “One of them is to be a great leader.”
“A leader that’s been tested. A leader that in a time of water coming over the bow guys looked at him and wanted to be led by that person. That is something you can’t fake. It’s something that comes from within, and you can’t turn it on.”
And to know where Jay Heaps is going it’s important to know where he came from. Heaps roamed the soccer fields at Longmeadow high and earned All-American honors. He was a soccer All-American at Duke, and a walk-on on the famed Blue Devils basketball team.
At 5’9″ tall, Jay Heaps has had to prove his worth at every level, and has excelled every step of the way.
“Jay has something inside of him that is non-coachable and non-teachable,” said John Pantuosco, Jays high school coach at Longmeadow. “It is the passion, desire, and competitiveness that is unparalleled with anybody I’ve ever met. I come from a family of five brothers and we go at it all the time. Jay is just as competitive as a person can get.”
“I watched him play at Duke, watched him play when he went down to Miami with Carlos Valderrama,” said high school teammate Brad Miller, who still coaches the boys soccer team at Longmeadow high school.
“Obviously he did great with the Revolution for many years. He’s just a highly competitive, highly athletic individual, and he definitely has the intelligence to take over this job.”
Two moments stand out in Jay Heaps soccer career. The first, a low point. During the 2006 MLS Cup championship heaps missed a critical penalty kick that gave the championship to the Houston Dynamo.
The highest of highs happened nearly two decades ago on the local WMass high school soccer fields.
“One game I remember vividly,” said John Pantuosco. “We played my brother Joe’s team, Cathedral high school. We were down 3-0 at halftime. Jay said, ‘Coach just get me the ball as much as you can and we’ll win the game. Jay went on to score four second half goals. It was quite amazing. We had a big crowd. My brother didn’t talk to me for weeks, but I can remember this clear as day and it was probably 18 to 20 years ago.”
Jay Heaps takes over a New England Revolution team that went to four MLS Cup finals, but finished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standing last season.
Two years removed from his retirement as a player, Jay Heaps is back in New England as the Revolution’s new coach.