It had been more than 30 years since American International College football standout Mark Cordeiro ’90 had walked onto the AIC gridiron that had been the backdrop to some of his greatest athletic triumphs. The recipient of two consecutive New England Division II Offensive Player-of-the-Year awards in 1988 and 1989, as well as the College’s Alumni Football Award presented to the outstanding football player for four seasons and the President’s Cup which is bestowed upon AIC’s most outstanding athlete, Cordeiro spent a few moments looking around what is now known as Abdow Field and clearly felt the emotion of the moment.
Stepping onto the field in May 2019, it was as if the bleachers were once again full of cheering fans, including his father Kenneth (now deceased) and mother Pat, who never missed a single one of their son’s football games from his freshman year in high school through his senior year of college.
Cordeiro, who was the team captain during his junior and senior seasons at AIC, wore jersey #12. It was the only jersey number he ever wore. Even as a child, Cordeiro recalls wearing the #12 jersey his parents bought him in honor of Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Namath.
It was Kenneth Cordeiro who had introduced his son to football and then later weightlifting in the cellar of their house in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, when he was just a kid. Weightlifting would become a passion throughout the younger Cordeiro’s life and one that he lives by, almost like a meditation, every morning before the sun rises in the gym near his West Springfield home. He and his wife Donna have two children—son Nico, a father of four, and daughter Demi.
After a remarkable football career laden with accolades at AIC, Cordeiro added to his list of accomplishments by earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1990. From there he would have career stops in youth services, corrections, and ultimately, as a lobster boat fisherman.
The shrill alarm announces the end of sleep and Mark Cordeiro opens his eyes to darkness. It’s 1 a.m., but it’s time to get ready for work. He’ll be boarding a boat, the Jarhead in his native New Bedford in just two hours to begin work, and it’s true—time and tide wait for no man. hard-earned athleticism to work several days a week aboard a lobster boat operated by a childhood friend.
But the muscular 52-year-old is no stranger to hard work and sacrificed sleep. He attended AIC on a football scholarship from 1986 to 1990. “Football was full-time,” Cordeiro recalled, with the fall season rolling right into intensive, off-season training that would carry the players all the way through summer. “It wasn’t easy, but you found the time.” For Cordeiro, that meant balancing football with classwork and making the grades to retain his scholarship.
After graduating from AIC, Cordeiro joined the Connecticut Department of Correction as a corrections officer. Over the course of his career, he stepped up into a corrections counselor role—that’s the person who “sets up attorney calls and legal visits and tends to all the inmates’ needs with the outside world,” while they’re incarcerated, he said. These counselors work closely with inmates and serve a critical function in helping them through the rehabilitation process and preparing for life after their sentence ends.
Cordeiro described the job as challenging. “You had your good days and your bad days, but it balanced out because I was fortunate to work with a group of extremely dedicated colleagues during my career in corrections. We worked as a team and that’s what allows for success whether in athletic competition or on the job. I had a warden very early in my career who gave me some good advice. He said, ‘Be the person you are. If you’re a tough guy on the street, then be a tough guy in here. Just be who you are. Because the inmate population picks up on that.’ That’s the best advice I got. After 20 years, I’ve seen a lot of guys try to be something they’re not. But the inmates have 24 hours a day to look at you and read you,” Cordeiro said. A pleasant, laid-back, and down-to-earth person with a quiet strength is how Cordeiro comes across, and it seems that embracing this authentic persona served him well during his career with the Department of Correction.
But, after a little over 20 years on the job, it was time to move on to other adventures. “I retired in 2012 at age 45,” he said. Because his role was considered by the state to be hazardous duty, he was eligible for retirement benefits after 20 years of service. “There are some people who stick around longer, but after 20 years, I was ready to go,” he said.
But rather than move to Florida and soak up the sun as so many retirees do, Cordeiro decided his next adventure would involve a lot more manual labor and a return to his native New Bedford, at least for work. Though he resides in West Springfield, several days a week, he’s hard at work on Buzzards Bay, a small gulf in southeastern Massachusetts that tucks up under the arm of Cape Cod. “I grew up there and my buddy asked me if I wanted to lobster with him. He’s been doing it his whole life,” so after retiring from the Department of Correction, Cordeiro plunged into the fisherman’s life—a salty homecoming if ever there was one.
“I grew up on the water and going to the beach. I love being out there lobstering, I really do,” Cordeiro said after a calm day on the water in mid-May. “It’s so peaceful, especially on a warm, sunny morning like today. It’s tranquil. It’s nice. You want calm,” he said, noting that “people don’t realize there’s a lot that goes into getting a lobster on the plate. So much goes into it.”
New England is famous for its lobster, and the season runs year-round, but there are certain times when the chances of a good haul are better. May through November is high season, “but when it starts to get cold, the lobsters go to deeper water,” Cordeiro said.
Though lobstering seems a world away from corrections, life at sea has its challenges, too. Mornings come early for lobstermen and when he’s scheduled to work, Cordeiro will stay at his mother’s house in nearby Dartmouth, Massachusetts. “I sleep in the bedroom I grew up in when I come down,” he said.
A typical day on the water means leaving port early and arriving at their fishing location in time to catch the sunrise. Cordeiro pulls pots, removes lobsters and bycatch, and tosses back what they can’t keep, such as females with eggs and lobsters that don’t meet size regulations. When the traps are empty, they rebait them and send them back to the depths. Once all the pots have been serviced, they bring their haul to the docks at Buzzards Bay for sale to local fish houses. If you order lobster at a waterfront restaurant in New Bedford, the critter might well have been plucked from the sea by Cordeiro.
All that pulling and lifting can be hard on the body, even one like Cordeiro’s that’s benefited from being a life-long athlete—first as a football player and later as an avid weight lifter. All those muscles come in handy during the busy summer and fall season when Cordeiro said they’ll go out fishing three or four times a week. Soreness and seasickness are not infrequent occurrences, “but you’ve just got to fight through it. You don’t stop working because you’re seasick.”
Though he loves the work, it takes a toll. “It’s tough on the body, especially the joints. I don’t know how much longer I have of lobstering. But I’ll do it until I can’t do it anymore,” he said. And when the going gets tough, he draws on lessons learned at AIC when he’d punch through a tough workout or long semester of academic work. “Hour after hour, you have to push yourself. When the body says ‘you can’t do it anymore,’ your mind says, ‘keep going.’ It’s amazing what you can put your body through.”
By Elaine Howley :: Foreward by Robert Cole
Photos by Leon Nguyen ’16