From the Sidelines: Jay Civetti

Jay Civetti (center) has been head coach of the Tufts football program since January 2011. (Courtesy Tufts University Athletics)

Long before he was head coach of Tufts’ football, Jay Civetti was a big kid from Wellesley with a penchant for playing the game.

“Football was always a part of my life,” Civetti said. “My dad had played. My grandfather had played at Boston College. The transition always seemed natural.”

He was recruited out of high school to play at Trinity by coach Don Miller. Miller, who retired in 1998, is the all-time winningest New England coach in Div. III history. While Civetti had some interest from higher level schools, he said the fit felt right at Trinity.

“I appreciated the opportunity to play at a NESCAC school,” Civetti said. “I got to play every game of my college career. There was a quarterback there named Joe Mullaney who was from Wellesley who I grew up always idolizing and I got a chance to play with him my freshman year.”

Civetti was a fixture on the Bantams’ offensive line for his four years in Hartford, Conn. He played both guard and tackle in Trinity’s multiflex offense. The scheme was the brainchild of former Harvard head football coach Joe Restic, who, following his retirement, came to Trinity to implement the offensive style.

“Essentially every play we pulled [a lineman],” Civetti said. “Whether it was a tackle or a guard, predominantly if there was one guy pulling I would be the one doing it.”

Civetti graduated from Trinity in 2001 with a degree in English and was hired at an IT consulting firm.

“I got home and I wasn’t sure that it was exactly what I wanted,” Civetti said. “My brother was a freshman at Wellesley High and I was poking around to see if there was an opportunity to do some volunteer work there. It turned out that the [Athletic Director] caught wind that there was a job at Milton High School.”

He proceeded to get hired as the first-year football coach in Milton for what he described as about one tenth of the salary he would’ve had at the IT position. Civetti also accepted a position teaching in the school’s special education department, along with coaching women’s track.

In his second year at Milton High, Jerry Petercuskie, assistant coach of Boston College, reached out to Civetti and offered him a position as the recruiting graduate assistant under head coach Tom O’Brien.

“I was able to get my Masters obviously, which I needed anyway to continue teaching in Massachusetts,” Civetti said. “The rest kind of spiraled from there.”

After two years of recruiting, Civetti took a graduate position on the field coaching wide receivers. He followed O’Brien to North Carolina State University in 2007 and was hired as the offensive coordinator at Tufts in 2008.

Civetti noted that there were significant differences between Div. I and Div. III football.

“In Div. I your job is to get these kids ready for the NFL, that’s what they expect,” Civetti said. “The other part of that is that your livelihood is based on an 18 to 22-year-old kid making a play. Those kids are there to play ball, and it took me a year or two to realize that here these kids are really going to school, they’re really engineers, they’re out here for the love of the game.”

One incident in particular reminds Civetti of his change in attitude since his first days of coaching at Tufts.

“We were sitting in Halligan Hall and one of our best players and toughest kids on the team made one mistake, and I was coming from a place where if you made one mistake you owned it, you got barked at,” Civetti said. “I barked at him bad and I think I lost a couple of the guys there because I came at it from the wrong angle.”

Civetti’s office remains decorated with some of the marquee victories of his career, with six balls adorning the shelf above his desk.

The first is old and weather beaten, clearly a relic of a different age, and even Civetti is unsure of its origin.

“Someone put in front of my door the ‘Tufts 13 – BC 0’ ball,” Civetti said. “That’s new and I thought that was pretty good. I’ve still got to figure out who put that there.”

The rest are relics of his own coaching career, with the first a memento from Boston College’s first ACC win over Clemson. According to Civetti, then-BC quarterback Matt Ryan took a huge shot and the second team offense came out on the field and scored the touchdown to take the lead.

The next two were from BC’s two Notre Dame games in Civetti’s tenure. O’Brien was a big proponent of rivalries to push the players, and Notre Dame was the pinnacle for BC, he said. The next ball was another rivalry game for Civetti, this one from when he was at NC State playing against in-state rival the University of North Carolina.

The final ball, however, holds the most meaning for Civetti.

“In 2009, my mentor, the guy who taught me everything about football, Dana Bible was the offensive coordinator at NC State and I was here [at Tufts],” Civetti said. “He was diagnosed with leukemia and wasn’t doing great, and wasn’t able to coach in the Virginia Tech game or the last game against [UNC]. Coach O’Brien filed an injunction and asked me to come down to NC State and make sure everything kept moving.”

Civetti reminisced that during this time, he had the opportunity to coach current quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks Russel Wilson.

“Coach Bible had called us from his hospital bed and said ‘We’ve got to run Reno-Z-Post. Tell Russell to stare at the cross.’ We ran that and sure as all can be, the safety jumped the basic cross and we hit it for a 35-yard touchdown pass,” he said. “I love that man, and he fought through and that was a really special experience.”