By Katharine Webster
Ante Cop knows all about goals – scoring them, blocking them and achieving them.
Cop first came to SNHU in 1995 as goalkeeper for the Penmen soccer team. In 1997, the Penmen won the conference championship and Cop was voted NCAA goalie of the year. In 1998, he signed a contract to play for Marsonia, the soccer club in his father’s hometown of Slavonski Brod, Croatia.
He’d achieved his goal of becoming a professional athlete. But another goal – completing his B.A. in marketing – would have to wait: He was seven classes shy of graduation.
Cop played left wing as a pro, scoring numerous goals and assists. Two years later, he signed with the Tucson Fireballs of the United Soccer League and won rookie of the year. Then it was back to Marsonia for the next two seasons.
In 2003, Cop was signed by Croatia’s top soccer team, Dinamo Zagreb. He seemed set to follow in the footsteps of his father, Mile Cop, who had played for the former Yugoslavia in the 1966 World Cup and the 1968 European Championships.
But just as Cop was about to board the plane from Chicago to Zagreb, he got a phone call: His father had cancer. He turned in his ticket, fetched his suitcase, and went home to the South Side to take over his father’s contracting and custodial business.
“I never regretted that decision,” Cop says, even though it meant the end of his full-time soccer career.
Over the next decade, Cop met and married former U.S. National Women’s Team player Kim Crowe and now has a son, 4-year-old Ante “A.J.” Cop Jr. Cop coached the varsity men’s team at Robert Morris University and continued running Cop Family Contracting with his father. He coached goalies privately, ran summer soccer camps and played goalie for indoor soccer teams in the Chicago area.
In late 2007, he promised four players he’d coached at Schaumburg High School that he’d take them to Las Vegas to celebrate when they earned their college degrees. He was keeping that promise on Memorial Day 2012 when they asked, “When are you going to finish yours?”
He knew he had to do it, not only for himself, but for his son.
“They gave me the push, and A.J. gave me the motivation 100 percent,” he says.
Cop contacted SNHU about completing his degree online. The requirements for his major had changed, so he had to take more courses. But he started in June 2012, getting up at the crack of dawn every day to do his assignments. The four Schaumberg players called him constantly to make sure he was on track – just as he’d done for them – and demanded he post his grades on Facebook. When he graduated in August, he said he did it so he could look A.J. in the eye and tell him he’d finished what he’d started.
“I’ve told him, ‘I don’t want you to be a quitter on the field, and I don’t want you to be a quitter off the field,’” he says. “I wanted him to know that education, above all, was the most important thing.”