A tight pass from Kyle Jackson would meet the mesh of Mark Cockerton, and the captain would shrug off his long pole to bury what would be the go-ahead game-winner. As Cockerton walks off the field after the Cannons’ outlasting of the Lizards, 16-14, on opening day, the next stop will be a quick ice bath and stretch to get the knots out early and maximize Sunday’s day of rest. Then it’s back to the field on Monday evening against the defending champs, the Chesapeake Bayhawks.
The short turnaround is something the eight-year veteran and lacrosse-lifer was made for.
Growing up a few hours east of Toronto in Oshawa, ON, Mark Cockerton was indoctrinated into the world of lacrosse. His father, Stan, a Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Famer and NCAA great, taught his son to not only love box lacrosse but put focus into the field game as well, an anomaly of sorts in Canada.
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It was actually an American field lacrosse phenom that had his attention as a youngster.
When he was growing, his eyes were fixated on Syracuse icon Mikey Powell. The flash and flow of one of the game’s most electrifying made him want to dance defenders out of their shoes while spinning their heads with a dazzling stick. Cockerton learned the craft of time and room dodging through field lacrosse and combined it with the inside grit and soft hands indoor lacrosse provides to become one of the most highly touted recruits out of Canada. His eye-catching hybrid skill set earned Cockerton the honor as the first Canadian to compete in an Under Armour All-American game. He took the opportunity to stake his claim as more than a one-handed wonder from up north by earning the game’s MVP award.
While his box lacrosse career was collecting a serious resume of its own, leading the Whitby Warriors to hoist the Minto Cup in 2011, the great outdoors kept calling. Cockerton followed his older brother, Matt, to Charlottesville for a career as a Cavalier, and before he would hoist a trophy in the box, he was learning how it felt on the field. Coming into a starting role as a freshman, Cockerton would be a key piece to the Virginia title run.
By the time he walked off campus, his 125 career goals were good for eighth place on Virginia’s all-time list and his 2.94 goals per games settled him at seventh in the nation, second in the ACC. Yet, even as a top three goal scorer in the country, he was still only attributed with Third Team All-American honors. When looking ahead to Major League Lacrosse, the buzz around Cockerton was that he was the next big thing. Coaches liked what they saw, and a big career in pro lacrosse was a sure thing. That’s what they would say to his face.
“They told me that they love me,” Cockerton explained. “They would tell me that they want me there. So, then they never told me anything about not taking me, not any negative comments at all. They loved my game. At least is what they’re telling me. They love how I play.”
Fifty-five names would pass before Mark Cockerton would hear his name called. The last man to go in the seventh round, he was finally selected by the Rochester Rattlers.
“I thought I should have been higher in the MLL Draft and went in the seventh round somehow,” Cockerton went on. “It hurts when you put that much time and effort and energy into it and you know how good you are.
“When other people don’t give you that kind of respect, it does hurt. I feel like I am kind of going in that direction where I am becoming one of the bigger names in the sport. I guess better late than never. I think if I just keep going on the path that I’m on and keep working hard, keep getting better every day, eventually I will get that respect that I think I deserve.”
While the fall in the draft was an initial irritation, Cockerton’s passion for the sport and opportunity to play it was far more important than any of the noise surrounding the process. He’s always found himself gravitating to the athletes with a similar love for the game. Growing up in Ontario, John Grant Jr. was always a role model to look up to, but once Grant joined the Ohio Machine in 2017, the two shared a roster for the first time. Rooming with Junior, Cockerton was able to get a round-the-clock look into how the greatest MLL player of all-time lives his life.
“I learned a lot about confidence,” Cockerton shared about John Grant Jr. “I think confidence is something that you need as a professional lacrosse player, especially when times aren’t going well. I think for him, he might miss a couple of shots here or there, but he knows that the end of the day that when he gets that shot again he can bury it.
“I think just having that confidence that you can kind of brush some things off if it doesn’t go your way and just keep going at it. Because you know that you can do your job.”
Talking to Cockerton, the confidence has rubbed off. Grant had that kind of impact on the Machine that season, boosting the morale of an entire roster to go capture the Steinfeld Trophy. Not only did he carry himself like he belonged, Cockerton’s three goals and assists through the semifinals and title game proved his impact on the outcome.
The lessons from 2017 carried with him through his trade to Boston, building a strong 2018 season into a stellar 43 goal campaign in 2019. He couldn’t be more sure that he’s going to put together another all-star performance in 2020. In fact, Cockerton has been so confident in his capabilities and proven results of the past that he has barely changed a thing. If anything, he has been limited on his conditioning and preparation for the season, adhering to strict social distancing through the past few months,
Sometimes less can be more.
Without distractions, Cockerton has been able to stick to the basics and keep a clear mind when assessing the shortened, quarantined season Major League Lacrosse will use in 2020. The time in isolation has mostly been spent in close quarters with girlfriend, Taylor Small, but the couple has been staying active on a regular schedule. From shooting hoops for constant cardio to playing catch for stick-work, his training partner has only been able to offer so much as a non-professional lacrosse player.
“How do you prepare for (the season) when you’re not getting slashed full speed?” Cockerton questioned. “I think any athlete will tell you there’s nothing really that can simulate game speed, game mentality and game scenarios. I think everybody going into it is going to be a little bit rusty.
“You can try your best to play with maybe some buddies. I have my girlfriend, who I pass with actually right now. I play wall ball, and I try and to simulate it. I think at the end of the day, (quarantine) is a little bit different than actual guys chasing you and checking you at game speed.”
The time apart from other athletes and the constant grind of the pro lacrosse lifestyle has seemed to recharge Cockerton’s batteries, mentally and physically. The grueling nature of an entire season condensed into a week’s time was something dealt with time and time again in his summers back home. Once playoffs come around during the Canadian box season, series between teams can feature battles nearly every night, duking it out for a week straight only for the winner to face the challenge again the following week. A team fortunate enough to battle to the top of its province and through an event like the Minto Cup could endure almost months of constant do-or-die lacrosse.
For someone who was raised in that type of constant competition, the thought of only having to do it for only an eight-day span is a novel idea.
Cockerton knows what it takes to be a champion and everything he is capable of to lead his team. After falling short in the 2019 semifinals and getting bypassed for MVP and Offensive Player of the Year, Cockerton still isn’t bothered. He’s used to a professional career under the radar. Regardless of whether he got the recognition he deserved from the beginning, Cockerton intends to make the lacrosse world know his name.
“I love it so much,” Cockerton ensured. “I’ve told people, I want to play professional field lacrosse for the next 10 years. I want to be one of those John Grant Jr. guys that they all know.”