Mighty MackThe 100-mile trip from Dickinson to Bismarck for soccer practice or games never gets any closer for Austin Mack.
By: Royal McGregor, The Dickinson Press
The 100-mile trip from Dickinson to Bismarck for soccer practice or games never gets any closer for Austin Mack.
But it has all been worth it.
Last weekend, the Dickinson High senior was named West Region Senior Athlete of the Year as the lone boys soccer player in the school’s co-op with Bismarck Century, which has been in place since his freshman year.
“Soccer has always been my passion,” Mack said. “When we moved to Dickinson, there was soccer here, but it was only up until the sixth grade and that’s when we started traveling to Bismarck.”
During the soccer season, Mack makes to round trip from Dickinson to Bismarck and back Monday through Thursday. If the team has a game on Friday or Saturday, there will be practice on one of those two days. He rarely misses practice and hasn’t missed a game this season. The Patriots finished the regular season and West Region tournament with a 12-2-1 overall record and 8-2 record in the West.
“That’s a huge commitment and that just shows the kid loves the game,” Century first-year head coach Nate Ulness said. “It shows that he wants to play at the next level. I know he will. He’s going to be a college soccer player, what school is still to be determined, but he’ll be playing at the next level for sure.”
Mack said traveling can get tiresome. However with the North Dakota Class A state tournament starting today, he said it’s worth the long hours in the car.
“I just kind of go into a zone,” Mack said with a laugh. “It doesn’t go by fast, but I kind of zone out and turn on the radio. I listen to a lot of Sirius XM.”
Mack hasn’t got sick of all the traveling either.
“It just kind of feels right,” Mack said with a laugh. “I get kind of bored between the period between soccer and basketball. I’ll have some off time and I won’t know what to do.”
The dedication put forth by Mack has rubbed off on his teammates of the West Region champion Patriots.
“It just amazes our whole team that someone could be dedicated that much to drive to just play soccer,” Century junior midfielder Brad Kelly said. “It’s always nice to see him when he shows up. He makes a good majority of the practices. He probably only misses once a week and makes it to every game. That’s just dedication.”
The road to soccer is not only marred with countless miles, but injuries. Mack wasn’t able to play because of a broken arm in his freshman season. He has knee surgery last winter, though he didn’t miss any time.
Mack overcame his knee surgery to compete in the latter part of the Midgets track and field season. Though he was back, he knew there was more work to be done before soccer started.
“The injury kind of helped me as far as motivation,” Mack said. “I wanted to come back even stronger.”
Another tough decision came about after knee surgery. In his sophomore and junior year, Mack ran cross country for Dickinson and also competed on the soccer field for Century. Due to the injury, Mack wanted to focus on one sport.
There was no doubt in his mind soccer was going to be the choice, but he said it was a tough decision not to compete in cross country. Though he didn’t compete with the cross country team, he was still able to train with the cross country team before soccer season.
“I’ve always been part of the cross country team,” Mack said. “It was a really hard decision not to go out this year. I really enjoy being part of that team and even if I’m not competing with them, I like to train with them.”
With the choice made and hours spent on the road, Ulness said Mack’s willingness to be with the team has driven the Patriots even more.
“It’s huge to have that, because it’s more motivating for the other players,” Ulness said. “They got a teammate that’s that switched on and dedicated. They want to show the same thing. They want to match what he’s doing for the team.”
Kelly said Mack brings leadership and great amount of skill to the center back position on Century’s defense.
“I’m going to boldly say that he’s the toughest guy in the state to dribble past,” Kelly said. “He’s probably the fastest defender in the state as well. He’s the hardest working guy on our team.”
The biggest area Mack emphasized was the amount of support given by both communities during his soccer career.
“My coaches have been really good about scheduling practices, so I would be able to make it down,” Mack said. “They are willing to make exceptions if I’m not able to make it down one or two days a week.”
Mack knows he wants to play soccer in college and more than one team wants him to play for them. He hasn’t made a decision yet, but said there are a couple options.
“I haven’t picked a school yet, but I’ve been in contact with some coaches,” he said. “I have a few schools that I’m looking at.”
Picking a school at this point is the furthest from Mack’s mind. He is focused on helping Century defend its state title starting with Grand Forks Central today at 5 p.m. CDT in West Fargo.
“We’ve been in the championship the last four years,” Mack said. “We have really high hopes for the state tournament.”
Despite the Patriots having the No. 1 seed in the West, Kelly said the team can’t overlook anyone in this tournament.
“We’re just looking at taking it one game at a time,” he said. “We’re just focusing on Grand Forks Central. We don’t want to look too far past them. Our overall goal is to make to the state final game and see if we can make the same noise, we made last year.”