WOLFVILLE, N.S. - Having the opportunity to pursue a higher level of sport after university is extremely rare - and it's even more exceptional when it's different from the sport the athlete competed in while at university.
Cooper Coats of the Acadia Axemen soccer team is about to do just that.
After graduation, Coats will move to Victoria, BC to train full-time with the Canadian Men's National Rugby Development Team.
"Soccer has always been my sport; I've been playing since I was four years old," Coats says.
Rugby, meanwhile, is a sport he discovered less than a year before beginning his U SPORTS soccer career at Acadia.
"In my Grade 12 year, I wanted to switch things up and try something new and a few of my buddies were playing rugby. Immediately, my coaches knew I played soccer and told me to try kicking and told me I was pretty good at it."
Coats was sold on the new sport. As an attacking midfielder, Coats' soccer skillset easily translated onto the rugby pitch as a fly-half.
"A big thing in my position (in rugby) is my ability to kick, and that's something that has translated over from soccer very well," he said.
After only a few months of playing rugby, Coats was invited to go on tour to Romania with the U18 National team.
"I was still pretty fresh, I hadn't even played for a year yet when I was playing in Romania, but that experience got my foot in the door with Rugby Canada," he said.
Unfortunately, competitive seasons forced Coats to make a choice between his two passions while at university. Both seasons are played in the fall at the university level.
"In my second year, I played soccer and rugby for the club team here but that was incredibly complicated since we have the same practice times and same game times," he said.
With only a club men's rugby team at Acadia, it was much easier for Coats to choose varsity soccer as his primary sport throughout his four years in Wolfville.
While soccer was his focus, Coats continued to play rugby during the soccer off-season. He was identified again by the U20 national rugby coach mid-way through his degree, and for the first time, was offered the opportunity to move to Victoria to train.
"I was very fortunate that (men's soccer head coach) Findlay MacRae saw this (rugby) was something I wanted to pursue," Coats said, adding that he received lots of support from his Acadia soccer coach. In the summer between second and third year, Coats was offered a contract with the Canadian Men's National Rugby Development team to train full-time in Victoria.
Fortunately for Coats, the Men's National Rugby team supported his choice to complete his undergraduate degree before moving across the country to pursue rugby full-time. As a Bachelor of Science student with honours in biology and a double major in chemistry, education has always been important to Coats. Athletics have given him countless opportunities to see the world, but also to receive his education.
"I've truly enjoyed my time at Acadia. I think I made the best choice I have ever made in coming here," said Coats. "In terms of the sports side, Findlay MacRae, the men's soccer coach, has been incredibly flexible and incredibly encouraging. He understood that (rugby) would get in the way of his soccer season, but he was proud of what I had achieved. He really wanted to push me forward, not only as an athlete, but a human. I've been incredibly fortunate to have that."
With his final soccer season behind him, Coats is now eyeing a future with his other passion.
"I am incredibly excited to get out to BC," Coats said. "This will be the first time I have the opportunity to solely focus on rugby and in an environment that I believe I will strongly strive in. I'm truly looking forward to training full-time without any major distractions."