The Other Football Star.
It is however Mark Fetrow's favorite.
"It was something I could call my own"
At 6-5 and 215 pounds Mark Fetrow does not seem as though he needed to call the sport his own. While many would assume soccer players to be somewhat slight in stature and thin from incredible conditioning they must go through, Mark appears strong in the upper body as well, giving the impression that if he had chosen to play basketball, or perhaps wide receiver, there is little doubt he could have excelled if he had chose to go down those respective paths. But with two older brothers, who already played sports, Mark felt that he want to make his own path.
What drew Mark to this unpopular game (in America) was actually something very familiar to Americans: Freedom.
"I didn't like wearing a lot of equipment, I found it too restrictive. I enjoyed the free flowing part of the game"
And so as a young kid growing up in the suburbs of West Chester Pennsylvania, Mark fell in love with the 'beautiful game', and would go on to play with FC DELCO, a top flight youth soccer club, that gives it's players an opportunity to play against elite competition. In 2004 it was ranked as the top soccer club in the country according to Soccer America and has routinely maintained high standings.
He was surprised how popular soccer was at his high school, Henderson, which large crowds would turn out for the game, boosting Mark's love for the sport. So when it came time to begin looking at schools he did so mostly looking at the schools in the Big East and Colonial conferences. And while Penn State was on the list, it was not his first choice. He loved George Mason, and there was a school in California that he loved as well. More to the point was that it seemed that everyone around him went to Penn State including his parents and class mates. He wanted his own path.
After an official visit to George Mason, something changed. He felt that after getting to know the players at George Mason, he sensed arrogance amongst some of the players and their openness about their dislike of the coaching staff gave him a sense of negativity that he couldn't shake. He ended up having to decommit from George Mason and start over again looking for a school. After his second official visit to Penn State he was sold, despite the fact that coming back late had left the school without funds for a scholarship, Mark would commit to Penn State.
The difference, as so often is the case at Penn State, were the people he interacted with. Unlike the players at George Mason, the Penn State players were warm and upbeat. They were also laid back and unassuming. The positive energy they exuded were the kind of people that Mark wanted to surround himself with.
"They just seemed so welcoming, and really just wanted to have a good time"
While he may have wanted to have a good time, he also wanted to be focused on academics as well as soccer. Like all Penn State athletes, Mark would have to maintain high grades to play on game days. And while he found the first 3 weeks "a bit overwhelming" he found himself thankful for structure that athletics provided.
"It helped to have a core group of friends right away, and to have people looking over you with both academic and athletic advisers. Eventually I would get into the rhythm of the schedule and adapted to the demands of being a student athlete."
Mark would get an opportunity to showcase his skills right away, starting as a freshman and earning a unanimous spot on the All Big-Ten Freshman team. He would later receive other awards, and honors but sadly his efforts would go largely unnoticed playing a sport that plays during Football season. A fact not lost on him.
"It can get frustrating, but there's nothing we can do about it. I don't think soccer will ever eclipse football in America, let alone in the town of State College."
"Do you get tired of defending the sport?" I ask him.
"Yes, but its the sport I love and that won't change."
This is Mark's path. His choice to go his own way, where instead of taking a more popular path, his was one he made for his own enjoyment. His rewards are numerous, including being drafted by the MLS team the Vancouver Whitecaps.
So while his path may have garnered less attention from some, it was certainly not less incredible. So here's a toast to Mark Fetrow, The Other Football Star.