“I’m just a kid from Coventry and I’ve been able to gain so many new experiences, learn about new cultures and build a new life.”
Alex Gott was in the Academy system from the age of 11, playing alongside Jack Grealish at Aston Villa before moving onto Coventry City with the likes of James Maddison and Callum Wilson.
While those three have developed into England internationals, Gott has taken a different pathway, having failed to earn a professional contract with the Sky Blues despite making the first-team bench on a couple of occasions as a scholar.
Instead, he secured an American Scholarship and, eight years on, has no plans to return home after landing the role of Men’s Soccer Director of Operations at the University of Central Florida.
“Football gives you the chance to shape your life in whatever direction you want,” the 26-year-old states. “I didn’t get a professional contract, but having that time in an Academy on my CV, plus the qualifications that you gain alongside that, opened up loads of different pathways.
“I still have a photo from when I left at 18 and I remember getting on the plane and crying for the first two hours of the flight. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was so lucky that I came into an environment where I felt loved and valued and I’ve got American friends all over the country now.
“Thinking about the places I’ve been to, the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had, all just through taking a chance and coming out here, it’s been incredible.
“It’s the best opportunity I’ve ever had and it’s given me an amazing life, which I don’t take for granted. For any scholar considering their next steps after being released, I would recommend that they take the leap and experience something new. Go and do something that a normal kid from your area would never do!”
The transition to becoming a student-athlete across the pond can be a difficult one, but Gott benefited from the upbringing he received at his boyhood Club.
“My time at Coventry was the kickstarter for everything I’ve achieved in America, because of the experiences and the skills that I gained,” he says. “You’re surrounded by some elite people who are phenomenal at their job, so I just tried to be a sponge and learned as much as I could.
“First and foremost, we were taught at a young age to be good people, be accountable and work extremely hard on and off the pitch. Gregor Rioch and Richard Stevens created a culture where they wouldn’t accept anything else – they wanted the best for every single individual.
“On the surface, their aim is to develop lads into becoming professional footballers, but deep down, their job is to make sure every lad in that group develops as a person and can successfully pursue whatever pathway they wish to take.
“I’ve managed to build a life in a different country and that wouldn’t have happened without my time at Coventry. That’s where young players need to realise that the way you’re perceived and the way you approach education does matter if you want to create as many opportunities for yourself as possible.”
Gott’s American journey began in 2014 at Eckerd College in Florida, graduating with an Undergraduate degree in Business Administration and Management, as well as winning several awards for his efforts in soccer and his studies along the way.
Most notably, his outstanding service to the campus community was rewarded with the Mark W. Smith Award, while he also received the prestigious James R. Harley Award, which is given to the student-athlete who has demonstrated excellence and leadership in the classroom, on the field and in the community.
After completing the four-year course, Gott went on to earn a Master’s degree in Higher Educational Leadership at Mercer University in Georgia before returning to Florida to start his current role at UCF.
“Committing to the initial four years of higher education was a bit of a concern when I came out here, but that time went quicker than any four years in my life,” he admits. “I’m now the first person in my family to get a Master’s degree and that can never be taken away from me.
“Depending on where you go and what your ambitions are, you can either pursue the pathway to being drafted or use your experience to play anywhere across the world, or you can use your education to move into employment in your chosen career.
“There are examples like Jack Harrison and Matt Turner who have gone through the College system and made it to the Premier League. Here at UCF, we’ve recently had two guys drafted to the MLS – one to Orlando City and one to Chicago Fire – so there are pathways to turn professional over here.
“If you came out here and saw the facilities at UCF, you’d put them on a par with the top 10 teams in the UK. Millions of dollars have been pumped into the facilities, resources and the way we travel.
“I went to a small school where I was never going to get drafted, but regardless of that, I was treated like a professional footballer for four years on campus at Eckerd, while getting my degree paid for and being able to travel all over the country.”
Having thrived in the U.S. College environment, Gott is now helping the next generation of student-athletes.
As a graduate assistant at Mercer, the man from Bedworth contributed to their two conference championships and now supports the men’s soccer team at UCF, while he also successfully organised a soccer camp for over 600 participants across 12 days this summer.
He explains: “My role is to sort out all the stuff that the coaches shouldn’t have to do. That includes organising travel and compliance, liaising with the facilities and sports marketing departments and just generally covering all the logistical aspects of the programme.
“I’m here to ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible so that the coaching staff can focus on what they do best. I love football and I wanted to stay involved in the sport, but I had no desire to coach. As Director of Operations, I’m doing a lot of the dirty work and I can be really impactful in this role, so it’s a bit of a niche that I’ve built for myself.
“I’m not a professional footballer, but I’ve been able to get a free education and I live in Orlando, Florida, so in my mind, I’ve hit the jackpot!”