Jesse Cooper-Leary was all ‘heart’ for his Fieldston teams


Athletes are always being measured. Their height, their weight, their speed in the 40-yard dash. The list goes on and on.

What can never be measured, what can only be gleaned from watching an athlete put in his work on a daily basis, how he practices and how he performs under pressure — is the size of his heart.

Jesse Cooper-Leary is one such player.

Standing all of 5-feet-9, Cooper-Leary is not exactly your prototypical quarterback. Yet all he did in his three seasons as the Fieldston Eagles signal caller was flourish. And it was all a result of heart and determination.

“I’m somebody who had always been undersized and has always had to prove myself,” Cooper-Leary said. “I’m a huge Red Sox fan, and I wear No. 15 for Dustin Pedroia. I was never really the biggest guy, and neither is Pedroia, but he always has that fire and competitive fervor that I think all good athletes need to have. And that’s something that I’ve always wanted to emulate.”

The baseball success Cooper-Leary enjoyed at Fieldston has only continued this summer as he tears up his summer league with the Nor’Easters in the Blue Chip Summer Collegiate League on Long Island.

“I’m pretty close to the league lead in hitting right now,” he said. “I also just made the all-star team.”

Later this year, Cooper-Leary hopes to continue his baseball pursuits when he arrives on the campus of Wake Forest, his college home for the next four years.

“I’m going to have an opportunity to prove myself this fall in baseball,” he said. “The coach of my summer team knows the Wake Forest coach and gave him a call on my behalf. So I have a couple of good words being put in for me. But proving myself was never really scary for me because I feel like I’ve done that so many times in my life. I feel like I’ve become accustomed to that pressure. I feel like I thrive under it.”

But for all his prowess on the diamond, some of Cooper-Leary’s more memorable Fieldston moments came on the football field.

“When I think about my time at Fieldston playing football and baseball, obviously there were some great moments,” Cooper-Leary said. “But when we beat Hackley in football to make the playoffs this past year, after we were down eight with two minutes left, that might be my best. We drove down the field, scored a touchdown, and got the two-points (conversion), and then won in overtime.

“That was amazing. Any time you throw a walk-off touchdown, it doesn’t get any cooler than that.”

But there also will be some behind-the-scenes memories Cooper-Leary will always treasure, especially those shared with his head coach Gus Ornstein.

“I’d say a lot of the little moments will be the stuff I’ll remember, as well,” he said. “Like being at practice and talking to Gus and the team dinners before games. Those are the things that I’ll miss the most.”

Football, at least for now, is still in Cooper-Leary’s blood. He’s the flag football director for Kids of Summer Sports camp in Riverside Park.

“Just trying to make a little money for college,” Cooper-Leary said. “But also, having a job is good for experience, and it also gives you some responsibility as you get older.”

Cooper-Leary leaves for Wake Forest on Aug. 18, but in the meantime he’s looking to extend his Fieldston connections for as long as he can.

“It’s weird because it feels like I’m in limbo right now,” he said. “I see some friends pretty often, which is cool. But you’re only seeing the kids that you’re making an effort to see now. It’s not like you’re seeing people on an everyday basis that you always used to see.”

There are a couple of things Cooper-Leary will really miss from his Fieldston days, notably his football family. And one class in particular.

“There is a point after you finish high school that you realize you’re ready to move on and get to new and better things. I’ve definitely reached that stage,” Cooper-Leary said. “I’m going to miss Fieldston football and being in the French class that my mom (Melanie Cooper) taught.”

And how did he do in that French class?

“I did very well,” he said, laughing. “It was one of my better classes.”

And before he left Fieldston, Cooper-Leary also finally got the answer to the question he was always too afraid to ask his coach.

“It took me three years, but finally toward the end of my senior year, I said to Gus, ’I have to ask you. Have you ever started someone smaller than me?’

“And he just looked at me, laughed and said, ‘Not even close.’”