Turning down scholarship offers from North Carolina, Michigan and Virginia was not a pleasant experience for Xavier distance runner Robbie Cozean.
“It was incredible how close I got to all the coaches,” Cozean said, recalling the experience he had during his official campus visits to the Division I schools, “and I was just so thankful for what they did for me. It was very hard to make those calls where you’re saying, ‘I’m going to Notre Dame,’ but I realized Notre Dame was the place I want to be.”
Once the stress subsided Cozean, an elite high school runner since his freshman season, felt satisfaction and excitement in knowing he would chase big things in South Bend.
“You’re in college for four years, you might as well go for the highest level, which is the national championship,” he said.
Notre Dame’s cross country and track and field program is touting its four recently signed recruits as “one of the top distance classes in the country.” Three are state cross-country champions — Lisandro Berry-Gaviria of Maine, Josh Methner of Illinois and Carter Solomon of Michigan.
Cozean is the one with a national title. He was the New Balance National Outdoor champion in the 5,000 meters last June. This fall, he had perhaps his best cross-country season at Xavier, winning the Southern Connecticut Conference and Class L titles and finishing second in the State Open and New England Championships, both times to Conard’s Gavin Sherry.
Cozean, who plans to major in engineering, recently talked to middlesexcountysports.com about the process, his Xavier experience and his influences in becoming an elite competitor.
MCS: What sold you on running for coach Sean Carlson at Notre Dame?
RC: It comes down to being a good man, a good husband, a good brother. That’s really what’s important in sports. It’s kind of what sports is really all about. The other thing, what’s also great about the Notre Dame program, is it’s so young right now. Coach Carlson and the whole program, they’re very hungry for those conference and national titles, and becoming one of those dynasties in the future. Carter Solomon, Josh Methner and Lisandro — it’s going to be a really exciting freshman class.”
MCS: Did the fall season meet your expectations, both individually and team?
RC: There were definitely highs and lows. Getting our fourth conference title in a row as a team row was big and great to see, as well as our second consecutive Class L title. There were some things we had planned on doing that just didn’t happen. We definitely shooting for that State Open title as a team in cross country. We were a really young team and it was a really ambitious goal. You kind of have to have that ambition to go for it. You’re only here for a short time. Why not aim for the stars? For the indoor and outdoor season, we are looking forward to going after those team titles in Class L and at the State Open. We are excited for what’s to come.
MCS: Your father was on the Xavier cross country teams that won three consecutive state titles. Your team had the support of past athletes in trying to match that feat.
RC: That alumni network, especially with my dad being an alumni, is so special where they come back, and you could see that smile on their face because they feel like they’re all a part of it. Whether they are two years or 20 years away from the program, they still love to see that success and brotherhood continue out through us and live vicariously through that.”
MCS: Did the fact your father ran for Xavier make your experience more special?
RC: With all that he accomplished here, he set a high bar for me. It’s something to look up to. I’ve looked up more to his leadership skills than what he’s accomplished. I think that’s what I’ve gotten from him. Rather than how to win a state title, it’s how to be a better captain and a better teammate, how to be that mentor and teammate the young kids can hopefully look up to. That’s really what’s most important.
MCS: What was your father’s influence on you as a runner?
RC: He’s run for a very long time. He knows some of the things you can fall into injury wise. Also, just being a good person. He’s run a lot of miles, so he’s kind of burned out from that. He bikes with me all the time. We enjoy our time together. My mom and I also bike. When I’m running my parents will bike with me, which is really special. Even if it’s snowing out, they’ll still get in the car and drive beside me. Sometimes people probably think my parents are a little crazy, but it’s a really special bond we have together.”
MCS: Was the team this fall your team?
RC: I don’t think it was my team at all. I think what’s special is that we became a unit. My freshman year, our class and the junior and sophomore classes coalesced and came together. We really started to become a true team and things started to pay off.
MCS: Gavin Sherry of Conard won this year’s State Open and New England titles. Have you pushed each other as competitors?
RC: I have massive respect for him. I thought I heard him cheering for me in the Class L race. Honestly, having someone of his caliber makes races so much more fun. I would say he is one of the hardest runners I’ve ever competed against. He makes it honest. He throws in surges, on the hills especially. He wants to make you work. What every competitor hopes for is to run against somebody like that.
MCS: Did running the Wickham Park course so often ever get to be too much?
RC: I would say at New Englands, I wasn’t sad to see it be my last race at Wickham. It’s a lot for one season to run the same course four times. There were three races there in three weeks with Class L, states and New Englands. But it was special for my senior year that the New England race was at Wickham.
MCS: You began running in fifth grade, and it was in sixth grade that you gave serious thought to competing.
RC: The first time I started thinking big was sixth grade. I ran in the Junior Olympics in my middle school years. I failed at the regionals at Bowdoin Park (in New York state) to qualify for the nationals, so next year I really committed to doing well. It’s about the whole mentality of just trying to go after everything. You only have a short period of time to run that competitively, so you might as well go for it.
MCS: Did winning the 5,000 meters at the New Balance Nationals last June feel like your greatest moment as a runner? The title came with All-American status.
RC: It was definitely memorable. To win a national championship is huge. You have to be thankful to be able to accomplish those things, but also keep looking forward and down the road and not rest on your laurels. There are new things to try to go after. It was definitely great to accomplish that, but I continue to look forward.
MCS: What are some lessons you take from finishing second in big races like the State Open or New Englands?
RC: It’s motivation for other races. I was not thrilled about that. I was down about not getting those wins. The way I set up the season, I was kind of focused with nationals and more on those postseason races. It’s unfortunate not to win those. You take it, you learn from it. You get more experience and you look forward to more opportunities to race.