The old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” hasn’t detoured 29-year-old Patrick Henry Hanlon from chasing his dream to be a collegiate soccer player seeking a degree in exercise science. He is currently the oldest athlete at Adrian College and oldest men’s soccer player in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, according to polled MIAA sports in-formation directors.
An NCAA associate director of communications said that organization does not track the ages of its college athletes.
Hanlon, born and raised in Ann Arbor, Mich., is a sophomore at Adrian College playing with the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division III men’s soccer team, and, with approximately two years remaining before earning a bachelor’s degree, he’s considering staying on for another year to pick up a Master’s in Athletic Training.
After graduating from Ann Arbor Huron High School in 2009, Hanlon said he attended Central Michigan University for a little while but that just didn’t work out for him. He was just uncommitted in what major he was interested in. So, he jumped head first into the real world, and started working at Jimmy John’s.
“I was unsure of what I was doing and just didn’t do well,” he said. “I didn’t have a set direction right out of high school. It just took me a little longer to find one.”
Despite the fact that both his parents, and brother and sister, are all highly educated with distinguished degrees — his father, Philip, served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan and is currently the President of Dartmouth College, an Ivy League, NCAA Division 1 institution — Hanlon didn’t feel pressured to continue his studies.
Hanlon said his parents supported him as long as he was doing something productive in life.
“They want me to be happy,” he said. “They are very supportive now that I’m back in school. But, they always were supportive.”
As time ticked away while working full-time, Hanlon encountered health problems. He said at that time a surgery set him back physically, so he left work for a bit before taking on another restaurant position at Mr. Spots in Ann Arbor.
While there, he began playing soccer again to improve his well-being. He hadn’t played the sport for years and the invigorating activity awoke a competitive drive in him.
“Working full-time, I wasn’t in great shape, so I picked up indoor soccer again,” he said. “It just really caught on with me, so I stared playing more and more as I was able to.”
Hanlon started playing with top athletes, some on NCAA D1 teams, and felt like he learned a lot from them and became pretty competitive.
“That was kind of the beginning of my focus to play soccer at college,” he said. “I also wanted to change my career and began studying to become a certified personal trainer. I hadn’t been in school for a long time and I found it pretty easy to focus on. Then it hit me that maybe I should ac-tually go to school for this.”
It took him a while to commit to going to college again, because, “It’s a little scary to go to school when you’re 27,” he said. But, he was determined and began setting his plans in motion.
In order to actually get on a collegiate team, Hanlon started working out and playing soccer five to six days a week. Fast forward to 2021 and he can be seen in the Merillat Sport and Fitness Center working out in the mornings on a regular basis. That’s how he met Adrian College President Jeffrey Docking, who also has a daily workout routine.
“I met Patrick [Hanlon] during a workout and found out that his father was a colleague I have known since 2014 when my daughter entered Dartmouth College as a freshman,” Docking said. “I think Patrick’s story is commendable. It’s never too late to earn a college degree to improve your situation in life.”
Due to his age, abilities and NCAA restrictions, Hanlon’s clock ran out and he is ineligible to play on a D1 team. So, he started looking at DIII colleges he felt he had a chance to play with while getting a good education. Adrian College, he said, had the best exercise science and athletic training programs, “by far.”
“They’re phenomenal,” Hanlon said.
His DIII soccer coach, Micheal Hatfield, said in his time with the Bulldogs’ program he has watched the complete dedication, hard work and focus Hanlon has put into his training.
“It is very impressive how much he really focuses on the goals he wants to achieve,” Hatfield said.
“School has been a big transition, but I’m definitely proud of how I’ve done so far, especially now,” Hanlon said. “This semester has been tough. But, I’ve made some good friends here and that helps. The professors here have been very helpful, too.”
When he graduates from Adrian College, Hanlon said his ideal job would be to work in a strength and conditioning field with either a professional or college team. Until then, Hanlon said he has another goal to reach as he approaches his 30th birthday — hitting a netter in a college game.
Hanlon is hopeful his story can help others who are undecided about going to college straight out of high school, or when they get older.
“It’s ok if you don’t know what you want to do when you’re 18-years-old,” he said. “You can do it when you’re ready!”
Adrian College’s men’s soccer team will open its spring season on March 22.
For more information about Adrian College and its men’s soccer team, go online to adrian.edu.