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The Cub

The news site of Ludlow High School

The Cub

The news site of Ludlow High School

The Cub

LHS Alumni and Soccer Star: Jason Willis

LHS Alumni and Soccer Star: Jason Willis

When Ludlow High School students think about past alumni, they often think about their older siblings, parents, or teachers who they spend most of their days with. 

However, there is another famous name that students do not realize walked the same halls that they are in today.  This same person made history on the nostalgic field where history is still being made today.  His legacy hangs on a plaque right next to the Ludlow High School Mullins Gymnasium, but people continue to ask the same question:

Who is this local celebrity?

Where it all started

Jason (Jay) Willis knew what his passion was from the beginning.  He was practically born with a soccer ball at his feet.

He attended Ludlow High School for four years, graduating in 1999,  and, just like every other resident of Ludlow, he played soccer.  

The academic side of school never captivated him as much as soccer did, proving why he was on the field more than in the classroom.  Willis described high school as a “time to have fun before the real business started.  There was no time to love school when you were too busy loving soccer.”

What more can an athlete ask for?  He was playing his favorite sport, in the town he grew up in, with the friends that he loved.

During his four years at Ludlow High School, Willis started every game.  He carried his team to two state championships as well as three Western Mass finals.  He concluded his high school career as the Western Mass finals MVP as well as being named an All-State athlete.  

Path to Pro

Willis pursued his soccer career at the collegiate level.

Before transferring to Southern New Hampshire University as a sophomore, he spent his freshman year at Holyoke Community College where he competed for two national championships and earned NJCAA All-American.  

In his time at Southern New Hampshire, he was a part of the 2002 Division II national runner-up team and a Northeast-10 All-Conference Second Team Accolade.

Southern New Hampshire is also where Willis met his lifelong friends and teammates.  When he was not on the field, you could find him in a dorm surrounded by these people.

The college soccer experience was merely the start of Jason Willis’s remarkable career.

The Pro Life

Willis went professional in 2005 with the Western Mass Pioneers.  He anchored the Pioneers’ defense as both a center back and captain throughout his years.  

He proudly wore the number three on the back of his jersey, as he had for many years.  He was a brick wall that made it a difficult challenge for any striker to score against.  Many fans could easily pick out Willis on the field because of his signature slide tackle and dominant headers.  

With the solid defensemen, the Western Mass Pioneers 2005 team was awarded the USL2 regular season title and competed for the USL Second Division National championship.

In his five years with the Pioneers, Willis played almost 100 games, scoring four goals.  He earned himself All-League First Team in 2007, voted by his beloved team members, general managers, and coaches.  

During the off-season, Jay Willis played for the Massachusetts Twisters in the National Indoor Soccer League.  He described indoor as “his time to shine” because of the freedom that accompanied it.  Indoor soccer brought out the creative side of Willis, allowing him to improve his agility and tactics for the vital spring season that followed.

A True Love for Coaching

As his years as a player came to a close, Willis decided to take his knowledge to.  

In 2004, he started off training high school soccer teams at Leszek Wrona Academy in Bristol, Connecticut where he helped in both indoor and outdoor leagues.  

In the fall months of 2006 and 2007, he found himself back in the place where it all started.  Willis coached the Ludlow High School boys freshman squad while assisting the varsity team.     

He took over for the head coaching role of the men’s soccer team at Worcester State University in 2010.  It was only a matter of time before Willis became decorated with championships (as a coach).

Coach Willis has been recognized as MASCAC Coach Of The Year twice after leading the Worcester State Lancers to their first championship and conference tournament since 2008. He also helped the boys achieve the regular season title in 2016 after finishing 12-7 overall.  

Willis stepped down as the Lacers head coach in 2020 after ten years of success but he continued his role as an assistant coach for the Western Mass Pioneers USL2 team where he had been since 2013.

Aside from coaching semi-pro men at Lusitano Stadium, Jason Willis coaches the younger academy teams from ages six to nineteen.

Junior Thomas Wadas, a member of Ludlow High School boys varsity soccer team and Western Mass Pioneers U19 USL team, had the privilege to work with Jay as a coach.  Thomas dedicates his competitive playing style to “Coach Jay” as he says “he helped me refine the skills I needed to play at a higher level.”  

Not only has Willis developed players skills, he has completely turned teams around including the 2006 Girls elite team.  

In the 2021 spring season under a different coach, the team found little success reaching the top of the league rankings.  “When Jay took over, it’s like we became a whole new team,” says Junior Sophia Scyocurka, a dominant striker on the team.  

The girls later became two time Massachusetts State Cup champions as well as league champions giving them the opportunity to travel to West Virginia and Virginia, simply proving Willis’s capabilities as a coach.  

A Fresh Catch 

If Willis is not strategizing plays at Lusitano Stadium or leading a team to victory, you can find him on the banks of the Connecticut River where he spends hours casting every week.  It is a necessary time of peace he can find in the chaotic world of soccer.

“If it weren’t for soccer, he’d be a professional fisherman,” says Scyocurka.  “He is always talking about the fish he is catching–it’s hilarious!”  His stories and pictures of the big catches are a constant source of amusement for his athletes, allowing them to build a friendly bond with their coach.  

Whether he is on the shore of a river or creating a new game plan, Willis has a deep passion and enthusiasm for both.  His dual love for fishing and soccer speaks for his well-rounded personality, making him a loved being on and off the field.

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  • K

    Kate Del NegroJun 7, 2024 at 10:52 am


  • T

    Thomas WadasJun 7, 2024 at 10:41 am

    Great article, even better coach!