OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. — During a recruiting trip to Costa Rica in December 2013, NYIT men's soccer coach Carlos Declid's attention gravitated to a 16-year-old midfielder competing in an event in the capital of San Jose.
Now, Carlos Coto is a graduate of NYIT with a bachelor's degree in psychology, having served as a three-year captain for the Bears, and having earned the Ryan T. Caulfield Award earlier this month as the top male student-athlete in the school's entire athletic program.
Coto's next stop is the University of Denver Graduate School of Professional Psychology. He will pursue a master's degree in sports and performance psychology.
"I was in Costa Rica, and there were like 90 players there," Delcid recalled about the Central American recruiting trip. "It was a four-day tryout, and very hot — like 90 degrees. There were guys who stood out on different days. What set Carlos apart was that he was the most consistent player all four days. He was one of the skinniest players and smallest players. And we actually were looking for a center back, not a midfielder. There were two guys from the U-17 national team, and we just didn't like them. Carlos Coto just stood out every time he was on the field."
After a junior season during which he was limited to six matches due to a toe injury, Coto returned in full force as a senior last fall. He earned first-team All-East Coast Conference honors and became a United Soccer Coaches Association third-team all-region selection. He completed his NYIT career with seven goals and six assists in 61 matches (54 starts). He led the Bears in both categories as a senior, with four goals and five assists.
Celebrated as the quintessential student-athlete, Coto also served during his four-year NYIT tenure as a student ambassador with the university's admissions office, a role that included serving as a campus tour guide.
"Hands down the best soccer moment I had at NYIT team-wise was as a freshman back in 2014, when we won the ECC Championship against LIU Post at President's Stadium," Coto said. "I couldn't have asked for a better start to my collegiate career. Personally, the best soccer moment was my final season. After being out pretty much my entire junior year, I came back in the best shape I have ever been and was able to finish my collegiate career in the best possible way by having the most goals and assists on the team and earning different accolades in the conference and region."
Coto was attracted to the University of Denver for graduate studies because of the school's top-five national ranking among sports psychology programs and because the chairperson, Dr. Mark Aoyagi, has worked with U.S. Olympic athletes.
"I believe the difference between a top athlete and a regular athlete mainly is mental preparation," Coto said. "Say two athletes, with the same exceptional physical preparation, are competing for a championship. What is the reason for one's success or defeat? The answer includes things such as how they deal with different types of pressure and the athletes' motivation. It all adds up to a strong mentality. Things like that interest me.
"My ultimate professional goal is to be the sport psychologist for a Division I powerhouse. But I am always open to new opportunities, and being a coach is something that has always been in my head as well. I enjoy collegiate athletics, so I would like to stay involved with college sports."
While growing up, Coto desired to study in the United States. He had attended Colegio Bilingüe Enrique Malavassi Vargas, a bilingual high school in his native Costa Rica.
"I used to speak English fairly well for the level people tend to have back home," he said. "But definitely I was able to improve as soon as I got to the U.S. I still learn new words and sayings every day."
Last Tuesday, Coto proudly participated in the commencement ceremony at Nassau Coliseum. Two days later, he returned to the NYIT campus with members of his extended family to show off his home of the last four years. A former tour guide for the university, he was well equipped.
"Eleven of them were able to come," Coto said. "It made me very happy to be able to have them here."
Coto hopes to be able to volunteer with the reigning Summit League champion University of Denver men's soccer team while enrolled in graduate school.
He will fondly recall his time at NYIT while continuing his education in the Mile High City.
"You have to recruit people with great character," Delcid said. "When I met him and his family, I knew right away that we had the right guy."
Said Coto: "I always had the desire to come to the U.S to study, while being able to still play the sport I love at a competitive level. If I am not mistaken, Coach Delcid went to Costa Rica back in December 2013. I remember it was a tournament in San Jose. I did not have the chance to speak personally to him that day, but I remember a couple of days after that tournament I was told the coach from NYIT had made an offer, in what I recall as one of the happiest days of my life."