April 7, 2014
By Ben Brockman ('16)
After three years of college lacrosse, and coming off the best season of his Notre Dame career, Pat Cotter's trajectory drastically changed.
In January of his senior year, Cotter tore his Achilles tendon in a preseason practice. The injury would sideline the midfielder for the entire 2013 season and ultimately help influence his decision to return to Notre Dame for a fifth year in pursuit of a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.
Cotter says the injury made the ensuing season strange because he knew that he would not be able to finish his college career with the class that he came in with.
"It was definitely tough being injured in the preseason, not getting to play with [my recruiting class] my senior year," Cotter reflects. "Being here with them for four years, they were all kind of my closest friends."
While it was hard on Cotter to watch his former classmates go, he says the other friendships he made through the years made the decision to return for a fifth year that much simpler.
"It was a little bit weird seeing [the `13 class] leave and then coming back," Cotter says. "At the same time, all of us on the team are so close regardless of grade, so coming back and having those existing relationships wasn't that difficult."
Cotter, a native of Olney, Maryland, saw an opportunity to use the injury to his advantage and get back on to the lacrosse field for the final season he never had.
"Being able to come back and get my MBA in one year has just been a great opportunity," Cotter says. "I was kind of looking at my options and it came down to trying to make a good situation out of a bad situation."
The two professional lacrosse leagues, Major League Lacrosse and the National Lacrosse League, are continuing to grow but the prospects for professional play after college are limited. Cotter, therefore, understands the importance of the education that he is receiving from the Mendoza College of Business' MBA program, Bloomberg Businessweek's 20th ranked MBA program in the country.
"The professional league isn't very big. So really just focusing more on the education, Notre Dame is a great program." Cotter says. "Athletically and academically it is just top notch, so it just seemed like a no-brainer when deciding."
In his return, Cotter has been able to contribute on the field as well. Through eight games, Cotter has netted three goals for the Irish, including one in the 18-9 win over No. 7 Virginia. He also scored in the showdown with No. 10 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.
"We try to focus on getting better each day. It is not just one individual out there - it is just kind of playing off each other," Cotter says. "Plus, being a fifth year and being older kind of gives you an extra confidence boost."
Cotter realizes that being a fifth-year player does put him in a position of leadership and that it is often his role, along with the seniors, to be an example. He also points out that age does not necessarily compel leadership and that leaders can and do come from all over the team.
"I think our senior class as a whole has done a great job leading in the right direction, showing [the younger players] how we do things here," he says. "We have leaders in every class. It's not any one or two guys in particular - it's kind of all over. This can be really effective because you don't have a few people at the top but rather people leading from everywhere."
As the veteran on this year's team, Cotter is the only current player who was present when Notre Dame met current ACC rival Duke in the 2010 national title game. Cotter's freshman season came to an end when the Blue Devils topped the Irish, 6-5, in the opening seconds of overtime in what was one of the most compelling championship games in recent memory.
As a new member of the ACC this year, the Fighting Irish are playing similar championship-caliber competition throughout the regular season.
"Week in and week out we are playing a top 10 team," Cotter says. "It's been great to have that competition because I think it's helpful for our team to play great competition every single week. I think it will help us build going into the playoffs."
Having experience playing on Championship Weekend will allow Cotter to help his team as they move towards the postseason. The Irish have set their goals high for the 2014 campaign and look to be standing on top when the final game is played on Memorial Day.
"Of course we are striving to win a national championship and anything less than that, I wouldn't want to say would be a disappointment, but it wouldn't be what all of us want," Cotter says. "We are trying to focus one game at a time, getting better each day and not so much at the big picture yet. We want to be at Championship Weekend in the end."
However this season turns out, Cotter is starting to look toward the future and toward his plans following graduation in May. He speculates that he may end up in the Northeast, but it depends on where he finds a job. When all is said and done, Cotter does not expect to be playing professionally but knows that, wherever he goes, the sport that he loves will always stick with him.
"It's a game I have played my entire life," he says. "I don't imagine stopping anytime soon, even if it's just summer league or something like that. I love the game and it will be a part of my life."