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Cottrell chooses Naval Academy over West Point

Verndale senior Clay Cottrell was accepted to both the Navy Academy at Annapolis, Md., and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He chose the Navy after visiting both institutions.

Clay Cottrell is going to be looking at a lot of blue water in the coming years.

The Verndale senior has been accepted to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.

The Navy's successful recruitment of Cottrell was gained at the expense of another famous military academy -- the U.S. Army Academy at West Point, N.Y. Cottrell received appointments to both institutions through Eighth District Representative James Oberstar.

Along with his parents, Mike and Beth Cottrell, Clay visited both academies before choosing the Navy.

"When it came down to the decision I had to look at the career opportunities available after my four years," Cottrell said. "If I went to West Point it would be strictly the Army and everything that goes with that whereas if I went to the naval academy, they have both the Navy and the Marines within that institution and there are more options than the Army could offer. If I wanted to I could go on ships, I could go on subs, I could do aviation or I could join the Marines and I could be on the ground or Marine aviation. I am not really decided yet on what I want to do and by going to the Navy Academy I have all those options, and throughout my time there they will expose me to all those opportunities and I will be able to decide better."

Cottrell thought he was headed for some local university until last summer when he went to his brother's college graduation. Grandpa Jim Bounds was on hand and he brought the idea up. Bounds was in the Navy for 23 years and knowing his grandson's character, he suggested looking into a military education.

"He thought I would be a good fit," Cottrell said.

Cottrell started researching the military academies and it took more than a month before he told himself "this is what I want to do."

The Naval Academy campus is "beautiful," Cottrell said. "All of the buildings surround the yard, it has great, big trees and it's off the Chesapeake (Bay)."

Cottrell had to fit into the Navy's academic, leadership and community involvement profiles. The Navy is looking for more than just brains. The Navy accepts 1,300-1,400 applicants each year and graduates around 1,100. More than 17,000 apply.

"You could be just stellar in school and get just fantastic grades but if you don't have that full package they might not offer that appointment to you because basically what they are going to look at is the whole person," Cottrell said. "Do you have the good grades, are you active in extracurriculars and your community, do you work and what sort of leadership positions are you in?"

Cottrell will be reporting for "boot camp" in July and the next four years will include only short breaks. His summers will be spent learning what naval and marine officers do -- in the air, on the ground, on the sea or under the sea -- and along the way he will have to try and find the best fit for himself.

What is a naval academy cadet like?

"They are focused, I would say confident, they are assured of themselves and where they are at, of their abilities and being able to lead," Cottrell said.

A tour of some of the facilities at Annapolis gave Cottrell a taste for the 21st Century Navy.

"The technology is unbelievable," Cottrell said." We got to tour some the engineering facilities and it was pretty cool. As far as right now I think I would like to do some form of engineering."

Hitting the books is important for a naval academy man but so is physical fitness. All cadets are required to be in an extracurricular sport. He is considering football. Cottrell was a captain and star player of the 2009 Verndale team that repeated as Section 4 champs and played in the Class Nine-man state tournament.

Cottrell will be at Annapolis for four years and is then obligated to do a five-year tour of service. The next nine years of his life are going to be busy but right now he is focused on the first one.

"You have basic and the first year is definitely going to be the toughest as far as being the strictest," Cottrell said. "The responsibilities increase the longer you are there."