By: Monty Mosher
It sounds absurd that the course of a soccer career could be greatly influenced at the age of 14, but that's truth for Cory Bent.
Bent is an all-Canadian midfielder for the reigning U Sports national champion Cape Breton Capers men's soccer team, one of a large contingent of players from the United Kingdom on the team. Coach Deano Morley is from Nottingham.
It was in England where Bent, from Preston, Lancashire, came face-to-face with the harsh realities of British soccer. He was released from Preston North End Football Club at 14, deemed not good enough to perform for the club at the next level.
It was crushing. His father, Junior, was a pro soccer player in England with hundreds of games on his resume. There were other accomplished players in his family as well.
"I cried at that point," said Bent, recalling his heartbreak of seven years ago. "Football at 14 is all you want to do. You want to play full time. You want to go as high as you can."
He questioned his love for the game after that and he knew some players abandoned the game after they were let go. He turned down an offer to go to the U.S. when he was 16, thinking he was not ready to leave home. He was drifting in soccer.
Moment of decision
But at 18, the Capers, complete strangers to him, reached out. Bent didn't know Cape Breton existed and likely wouldn't have been able to locate Nova Scotia on a map.
It was the moment of decision. He knew it was likely a final chance to pursue soccer at a high level and to regain his passion for the game.
"I did whatever I could to take my talents somewhere else," he said. "It was hard, but I pulled through and now it is paying off. I'm back enjoying football, back enjoying playing with friends.
"It's massive for me that I had that kind of adversity to overcome. It was the possibly the best thing that could have happened to me because I wasn't enjoying my football at the time. But now I'm here and enjoying it and I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing."
Morley said Bent is "special" in every way and believes CBU and the surrounding community are lucky to have him
"He is an engaging, caring, charismatic young man who brings great energy and fun to our squad," Morley said. "As a player Cory is a dynamic, exciting, crowd-thrilling player -- he runs at players at intense speed and with professional-calibre balance and technical ability.
'He pushes and inspires his teammates'
"He has an influential work-ethic and he pushes and inspires his teammates to dig deeper, work harder and always demands the best out of himself and those around him. It is a privilege to work with him and I am excited about this young man's future in football and life."
Bent said one of Morley's strengths in recruiting is to identify character.
"He takes a of time to put personalities together more than players," he said. "That's a great way to get started even before you look at how someone can play."
This will be Bent's third year. The Capers won conference titles in 2016 and 2017, losing to Alberta in the semifinals in Bent's first nationals. But there was no disappointment a year ago with Cape Breton defeating Montreal 3-2 after penalty kicks for the national title.
Bent was named tournament MVP and an all-star at Thompson Rivers. The nationals will be back in B.C. this year at UBC.
"I can't put into words how grateful I am to come over here," he said. "I've had the chance to travel a different country, experience new things, meet friends for life and play good football," he said. "There's not many more things you can ask for.
"I've been so well looked after. The people in Cape Breton have been great. They always provide support for us. I'm still enjoying my time here. I really wouldn't want to go anywhere else. It's a small place, but that suits a lot of people. That's kind of my thing."
Never heard of Cape Breton
He came to Canada largely blind to what he would encounter. "I guess I just took a chance and luckily for me it paid off. I had never heard of Cape Breton. I talked to a couple of coaches before I came over here, but Deano was just the one that resonated with me most. He got me excited to come over here, that it was a really beautiful place."
He worked through an agency in England to find a placement in Canada. They had some knowledge of Canadian university soccer and had sent two players to Cape Breton previously.
What he was told was that it would be hard work, but the quality of soccer would be high. "Obviously you never really know until you get here and see for yourself," he said.
He saw the team had championship potential from the earliest days and was disappointed in his first season to come up short at nationals.
"After losing in the semis last year, we were all hungry," he said. "We all did a pile of work over the summer. We felt we could have gone further that first year, even though we had nine rookies in the starting 11. Not that we were robbed or anything, we knew the groundwork was there and it wouldn't take much for us to push (through) -- maybe another 10 per cent would possibly do the job.
"It's football. Sometimes you have the luck and sometimes you don't. But for me I could see everything we needed to win a championship was there."
Like father, like son
Bent, who plays the wing just like his father, has 11 goals in 23 regular-season matches for Cape Breton.
A new season begins with the Capers in the crosshairs. With most of last year's team returning, they'll get every opponent's best game every week of the conference season.
"We know there is a target on our backs. We'll do whatever it takes to keep that target there. We want that challenge. That suits us more. It's the way it is with any team whenever you win a big championship. But we're ready for it. We have a lot of lads that welcome that kind of pressure."
His father, now coaching in England, remains a great influence.
"I still speak to him today about stuff I can do better. He's my hero. He gave me everything I needed. He supports me in every single way he can. He's great to have around at all times. That's massive for me. After every game I talk to him."
The AUS regular season opens Sept. 7. Cape Breton debuts the following day at home to UNB.