There are very few instances when an athlete has a chance to play in front of his home crowd from the time spent growing up through high school ranks to competing at one of the highest levels as a professional.
For Wilmington Hammerheads FC veteran Cody Arnoux, the opportunity to salute the more than 3,000 fans in attendance last Saturday night proved to be one of the marquee moments in a memorable career as Arnoux announced his retirement prior to the Hammerheads’ season finale at Legion Stadium.
“It was an emotional night for sure and strange knowing it was the last one,” said Arnoux. “[I] was tearing up in the pregame, getting my name announced, but once the game started I wanted to put in a good performance. I knew it was the last time and a lot of things rushed through my mind.”
The pitch on Carolina Beach Road is where it all started for Arnoux, with many great experiences from his days as a New Hanover Wildcat when he scored 102 goals and 82 assists on his way to being named 2005 North Carolina High School Player of the Year. His playing time found its final stretch with the Hammerheads beginning in 2012. After getting the start in his final match, Arnoux had a little extra juice in his tank before leaving the game to a standing ovation during the second half.
“It was an unbelievable moment,” Arnoux said. “A lot of those people were the same people cheering me on when I was a kid. I knew I wasn’t conditioned to play a full 90, but thought I played pretty well. I had a moment with Ross Tomaselli (New Hanover alumni and Hammerheads teammate) and he told me some things I never heard from him over the years. Ross said he watched me play when he was a kid and loved watching me play and that meant a lot to me.”
It wasn’t easy to come to grips with the decision to hang up the boots, but Arnoux knew it was time. The 27 year-old made 13 appearance this season in an attempt to regain the form he once had as a member of the 2007 national champion Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
“The time had come to make the decision because really I didn’t think there would be many more opportunities to continue to play,” Arnoux said. “As I went through that mindset I really decided it was time for me to join another career path and plan for the future – to have more job security, own a house, have a family. I could have probably played for another few years, but it was a good time to step away. You can’t do it forever and when you feel it’s time, you feel it’s time.”
The career spent playing the game of soccer spans an impressive list for a professional, who signed for English Premier League club Everton on a one-year contract in August 2009 following a trial earlier that season.
Prior to his stop across the pond, Arnoux emerged as a top goal scorer for Wake Forest, where he made 64 appearances and scored 33 goals. He also tallied 14 goals in 16 appearances in three campaigns for Carolina Dynamo in the USL Premier Development League, which led to his training session with Everton.
“It’s one of those moments when you’re there in England it’s surreal,” Arnoux said. “I went over with a friend so I had a trial and in those training sessions, coming off a really good season at Wake Forest, I had a lot of confidence. In speaking with some of the coaches, they wanted to bring me for a trial contract and wanted to bring me under the wing and see what happened.”
After being released by Everton at the end of the 2009-10, having played seven times for the reserve team, he went on trial with League One team Plymouth Argyle of Plymouth, England.
“I got to see a lot of cool things, meet a lot of cool people and really understand the game differently, see the game from a different perspective,” he said. “The fans are always supporting you and it’s the driving force. An incredible experience and blown away and blessed by the journey itself.”
Arnoux eventually landed a spot for United State Soccer Federation Division 2 (USSF D2) club Vancouver Whitecaps on August 18, 2010, and made his first professional appearance for the team the following day in a game against FC Tampa Bay. He scored his first professional goal on October 2, 2010, in Vancouver’s last game of the 2010 USSF D2 regular season, a 2-2 tie with the Portland Timbers.
After a brief stint for Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer, Arnoux returned home to play for the Wilmington Hammerheads, a team he remembers watching as a youngster and helping set the groundwork for what’s been an incredible journey through the game of soccer.
“What I’ll miss most about the path is the camaraderie,” Arnoux added. “I’ll miss that the most. Joking in the locker rooms, road trips, pre-game meals – it’s tough to emulate that type of atmosphere in any other working environment.”
While his final season may have not gone exactly the way he planned from a win-loss standpoint to the number of minutes played, Arnoux is in a good place as Wilmington Hammerheads FC get ready to celebrate its 20th anniversary heading into the 2016 season. Lasting memories for an exceptional young man will remain evident in the years to come for a club that continues to build its brand within youth soccer across the community.
It won’t surprise Arnoux to see his story of a hometown player taking the pitch for the hometown professional team replaced in the coming years.
“There’s no reason why this partnership between the youth program and organization shouldn’t have happened sooner,” said Arnoux. “The youth have a sense of ownership with the club and making that move was really smart and it gives kids something to look at that’s achievable. We had some 16-17 year-olds come and train with us this year and that valuable experience gives them an understanding of what it’s going to be like at the next level, whether it’s college or in the professional ranks.
“It’s not that far of an idea away that the Hammerheads will be able to sign their own hometown player someday. It’ll be a special time.”