After never traveling overseas, Justin Cousin spent one month in Slovenia pursuing his dream of playing professional volleyball.
After a brief return to Oak Park, Cousin is now in Belgium — for the next seven months. The former Oak Park and River Forest High School standout was signed by VC Duvel Puurs, whose season began Oct. 11.
“The whole time I was always very positive about getting picked up because there are so many countries and so many teams. Somebody has to need one player,” Cousin said. “It was just like, ‘Am I ready for this seven-month journey?’ because I had just gotten back home. It’s volleyball and I’m 23 so if I’m going to travel and do it, I have to do it now.”
Cousin, a 6-foot-4 outside hitter, pondered playing professionally since his college career with St. Xavier University ended in 2014.
He discovered Bring It Promotions, which organizes international opportunities. A GoFundMe account supported by friends and the volleyball community helped him pay for his flight to Slovenia.
Cousin made an exposure team of United States players that faced Slovenian first-division league teams. Cousin remained two more weeks to try out for a Slovenian club team but was not selected.
About a week upon Cousin’s return, agent Tony Westman informed him about playing in Belgium. The matches in Slovenia had been streamed on the Internet.
“I was pretty much all in. This is what I’ve wanted to do with my entire life ever since I was cut from baseball my freshman year,” Cousin said. “I knew there were pro leagues but I never knew I could make it. A lot of coaches said that I could. It’s not impossible. I’m exactly where I want to be at this point in my life. I’m going to give it a shot.”
Cousin committed early toward becoming a top-notch volleyball player. As a sophomore at OPRF, he quit football and basketball to pursue the sport full-time. By senior year, he helped the Huskies win the 2010 West Suburban Conference Silver Division title and regionals. Cousin was named all-conference and co-MVP with Tim Schmidt.
At SXU, Cousin finished second in career kills (768) and matches played (94) and third in career digs (360).
In May, Cousin played at the USA Volleyball Adult Nationals in June in Detroit. He also has coached for several clubs, high school teams and camps.
Cousin assists at OPRF summer camps with boys coach Don August, whom Cousin credits for his SXU scholarship.
“It is a great opportunity and it should be an amazing experience. I can’t think of another player who deserves it more,” August said. “Justin was one of the hardest working players that I have ever coached. He transformed himself from a 240-pound, out-of-shape freshman to a 205-pound senior and one of the best outside hitters in the state.”
VB Duvel Puurs is trying to get from its league’s B division to the A division. Cousin said he will receive a car and housing and be paid monthly.
Cousin will benefit from his experiences in Slovenia and interest in phonics and word formation. He graduated with an English education degree and studied Spanish through college.
His new team is based in north-central Belgium, where Dutch is the predominant language.
“I became an expert on broken English and picking up certain phrases in Slovenian to make people more comfortable,” Cousin said. “I didn’t think volleyball was really a path to take after college. I was planning on teaching and coaching and passing that knowledge down. I guess I’ll have a lot more knowledge to pass down.”