It’s been a winding, sometimes bumpy road for Mark Cottrell, who has gone from laying bricks in Langford to helping anchor the backline of two-time defending national men’s soccer champion University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.
Cottrell, 26, graduated from Belmont in 2007 and has suited up for Victoria United in the Pacific Coast Soccer League, the Peninsula College Pirates in Port Angeles and even had a tryout with the Professional Development League’s Kitsap Pumas.
While he’s considered a “mature student” academically, he doesn’t feel like the elder statesman alongside his new teammates, who range in age from 19 to 25.
“We don’t really talk about it much. We just look at each other as players and they’ve been really welcoming to me,” he says.
The Thunderbirds are off to a 6-0 start, outscoring their Pacific Division opponents 19-2 in the process. They opened the regular season with a 3-1 road win over the University of Victoria Vikes, the team that cut him in 2011 – the decision that led Cottrell to look south for a team.
In his third year of CIS (Canada Inter-University Sport) eligibility having played two years with the Pirates, the modest Cottrell can take some of the credit for the T-Birds’ stellar defensive record. He has dressed for all six games – no small feat given the fact only 18 players travel with the team out of a roster of 33.
“I’ve definitely been happy, especially coming in on such short notice, it’s been hard to establish myself and get to know all the guys and gel with the team. But it’s definitely been a confidence booster.”
UBC head coach Mike Mosher, who has guided the T-Birds to four CIS titles, likes what Cottrell brings to his team.
“He’s a good communicator, which is important as a defender. We see Mark as a valuable piece, because he can play any position in our back four,” Mosher says, adding that Cottrell’s maturity shows on and off the field.
The defender’s road to UBC was somewhat circuitous. He took a couple years off school after graduation, working for Harold Blumenthal at Bricklok Surfacing and Masonry. He suited up for Victoria United in the under-21 division and later with their senior team.
Having attended Camosun College to boost his grades, he eventually registered at UVic. Somewhat disheartened after the Vikes experience, he looked south for a scholarship. The strategy worked. After trying out for Kitsap FC in Bremerton, Wash., he received a couple of offers, including one from Peninsula College.
He stayed for two years, helping the Pirates win the 2013 Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges title and earned himself a one-year soccer scholarship to Western Washington University, an NCAA Div. II school. In August, however, he was declared ineligible by the national body due to his pre-college club play.
Disillusioned, he surveyed his options closer to home and came up with UBC. “I decided that UBC was close and I knew it was a good program. And coach Mosher was kind enough to let me come in and try out,” he says. “It was definitely intimidating, because it’s such a big program. You see 30 or 35 players trying out and they’re all very good players.”
Mosher called Cottrell’s story “pretty unique.”
“He tried out for us out of the blue, only days before training camp,” says Mosher, who heard good things from WWU’s coach and decided to give Cottrell a shot.
Now majoring in psychology and looking to focus on sports psychology, Cottrell is pleased with how things have turned out.
“I’m very happy to be here and I feel like I’ve been through the worst of things,” he says. “I feel very focused and determined and see myself having some success with this team.”