Joe Corner, senior midfielder for Gonzaga men’s soccer, had a ball at his feet since the moment he could walk. By 12 years old, he was playing for a competitive soccer team in Portland, Oregon. Even though he lived in Salem. His parents committed to driving him an hour each way for practices and even more places for games.
“Their attitude with me was like, ‘we’ll always support you, like any team you make, we’ll support you as far as it goes,’” Corner said. “So, when I kept making teams, they had to fulfill that promise I guess.”
His experience playing for numerous teams as a kid and his commitment to the sport in general landed him at GU when it was finally time to sign with a college. During his first year playing with the team, he received the 2017 WCC All-Freshman Team honor.
“To be recognized as a big contributor on the team as a young player when I was surrounded by what felt like mostly older players, that meant a lot,” Corner said.
Paul Meehan, head coach for GU men’s soccer, was still an assistant coach when Corner was a freshman. He noticed Corner’s impact and impression not just on their team but on the teams they played against as well.
“He was a guy who was on the field a lot in a sport that’s dominated by upperclassmen, and as a freshman, still caught the eye of opposing coaches,” Meehan said.
Theo O’Malley, senior midfielder for GU men’s soccer and one of Corner’s roommates, said Corner specializes in beating defenders one-one-on. His technique, speed and IQ for the game help him get around anyone that’s between him and the goal or a great pass.
As a senior and player, Corner also acts as a leader on the team.
“Him being around makes the team better,” Meehan said. “I think he’s a really good role model for the guys.”
Corner leads by example on the field with his hard work but thinks his leadership is needed more off the field. The team has brought in somewhere around 10 new players this year, and a lot of them are freshmen, who are transitioning into college and enduring it in the middle of a global pandemic. Because of this, Corner has worked to support them and the rest of his teammates, especially emphasizing the importance of school and making good decisions that will benefit them in the future.
“He’s always there for people and he works hard, and he brings everyone along with him, which is awesome,” O’Malley said. “He’s just someone you can go to to talk about different things that’s going on in your life and in the world.”
Meehan said Corner is also personable, a good communicator and has a great sense of humor.
“He’s a great Zag,” Meehan said. “He’s just a good guy. You can count on him to do the right thing. He’s funny. He’s smart. He’s got all the good attributes.”
Corner’s intelligence and commitment to the “student” part student-athlete is one of the reasons he has been so successful. He graduated in three years at GU and is now working toward a master’s degree in finance during his fourth year.
With daily practices, strength conditioning and working over 20 hours a week at an insurance company, Corner still makes time for classes and homework. Nearly every hour of everyday is filled, but this was not a new idea to him as he entered college. When he would travel to Portland for practices as a kid, he often had to do homework in the car because there are only so many hours in a day.
“As a student athlete, you just have to be used to being busy,” Corner said.
Fortunately, getting good grades is not too difficult for him. Since being successful in the classroom has always been important to him, he simply makes the time for his studies.
“Anything that he does just kind of comes naturally,” O’Malley said. “He’s just very, very intelligent, so school comes easy to him, as well as soccer.”
Corner’s dedication to school over the past several years was recognized in 2019 when he received the All-Academic Team honor.
“That was just exciting for me because, you know, you do all this hard work in the classroom and a lot of the time it sort of goes recognized, but sometimes it doesn’t,” Corner said. “And that’s fine with me because I know it will pay dividends in the long run, but to get a little bit of recognition for the time and effort that I put into my schoolwork was great.”
As his last season playing for GU approaches, Corner looks back and notices the great bounds the program has made since he first arrived. Since his freshman year, the team has been in a sort of rebuilding mode.
“When I eventually get to play my senior season here, my hope is that I can look back and, throughout my time, I can say I left this program better than when I showed up,” Corner said. “And I think that’s certainly going to happen. I think we’re a much better program today than we were when I showed up here.”
Corner said that in previous seasons, the team always talked about winning the WCC tournament and going to the NCAA tournament. This year, these are more realistic goals. With all of the new players they have welcomed, there is so much more depth to the team than ever before. Plus, the fact that the coronavirus pandemic moved their season from the fall to the spring means they have more time to prepare and become a close-knitted group before their first game.
Corner said their team is just like most other GU teams. There are no cliques, no rivalries, no fighting, just love and support.
“I think the Gonzaga athletic community and community as a whole is just so special,” Corner said. “I’ll feel so good leaving this place having lifelong connections and being a Zag because it’s just a really special place, so I’m really thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to be an athlete here.”
Looking toward the future, Corner has no plans set in stone but knows soccer will remain an integral part of his life.
“I think soccer will always be a big part of who I am,” Corner said. “I could see myself being a little more removed from the game right after college just as I try and kind of set up a life for myself outside of what I’ve known for a long time. But will I always be a big soccer fan? Absolutely. Would I like to coach in some capacity in the future? Absolutely. Do I expect my kids one day to be soccer players? Absolutely. I will always be very involved in the game.”