As Jesse Scott ‘09 watched his four-day-old daughter come out of an emergency surgery on a Saturday afternoon last September, he had one question for the doctor.
“I want to ask you something that you might think is trivial, but we are playing a game at 6 p.m. tonight,” Scott told the doctor. The Thunder were scheduled to play Illinois Wesleyan for their second game of the season.
“Is she going to be in such a state that I can go to the game and coach the game in good conscience?” Scott asked. “Yes,” the doctor replied, “Absolutely.”
With Scott’s daughter out of harm’s way, he headed to McCully Stadium where he led the Wheaton football team to a 24-10 win to start off conference play.
“There were 115 guys about to take the field that night that are also family, that are like sons to me in terms of my love for them,” said Scott.
Scott’s loyalty to the Wheaton football program is not new. He graduated from Wheaton in 2009 with a degree in business economics, leading him to a career in financial services before returning to coach for the Thunder in 2010. After serving nearly 15 years in the program as both a player and a coach, Scott was named head coach in late January following the retirement of Coach Mike Swider ‘77.
While reflecting on his time at Wheaton, Scott emphasized the mission of Wheaton football, which is rooted in the team’s motto: “Living life without regrets.”
“The continuity of our mission is something that I’ve been invested in for all of my time with Wheaton football,” said Scott. “I really appreciate the emphasis on formation and development that Wheaton football has had at every phase through the course of my time here.”
Swider announced his retirement after 39 seasons with Wheaton football, boasting 209 career wins in his 24 years as head coach. Swider was selected “Coach of the Year” in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) seven times.
“Coach Swider did a great job of building a culture that people could completely buy into; where we know we’re playing for a bigger cause and we’re growing physically, athletically, academically, but most importantly spiritually,” said senior captain Ryan Schwartz. “Coach Scott has done a great job of stepping into [head coach], embracing it and doing all he can to make sure that the team is right on par with where we need to be.”
Although Scott was prepared to adjust his team to a change in leadership, he could not have anticipated the season the Thunder are experiencing due to COVID-19 restrictions. Despite the CCIW’s postponement of fall sports, the Thunder have continued to practice in hopes of an abbreviated season in the spring.
“We’ve challenged our team to trust that God has the ability to work an unfathomable good out of a hardship that we can hardly imagine,” said Scott.
Following NCAA COVID-19 regulations, both players and coaches are wearing masks while participating in socially distanced drills for a majority of practice. Players are also practicing in 10 “pods” of roughly eight players each in order to better trace close contacts in the case of an outbreak.
Following the first official practice, junior quarterback Jeremiah Tucker, said, “Practice is a little different because we are all separated, but we still have the same camaraderie; guys are still jumping around, flying around, making plays. It’s still football, just a little bit different.”
Despite the present challenges in his first season, Scott’s motivation to lead Wheaton football through a new era is strong.
“Even though our load is a little bit lighter this fall than it is traditionally, we want our players to be their best in all they do,” said Scott. “This is a great opportunity to embrace that in a different time.”
Scott’s daughter, Evie, just celebrated her first birthday. Although her dad isn’t rushing off to games this year, his dedication to family both on and off the field remains the same.
“This program has been an extension of my family for a long time,” said Scott. “ I love our players and coaches and I love what [Wheaton football] stands for.”
Wheaton College, IL