In the week's leading up to this year's Major League Soccer SuperDraft, scheduled for Thursday at the Baltimore Convention Center, the buzz surrounding Fulton-native Colin Bonner has been growing.
The 6-foot-4 forward, who was the Howard County Player of the Year at Reservoir in 2011 before starring at UNC-Wilmington the last four years, has seen his name listed "as a late first-round sleeper" and "among the top five forwards in the draft." Yet Bonner says, even with the encouraging signs, he's not getting ahead of himself.
"Sure, I've followed along with the mock drafts and you see a lot of people with different opinions, but I've seen how these things work. You just never know," he said. "Honestly, I would just like to get drafted. I'm not worried about whether it's in the first round or the fourth round, or what team it is. I just hope I can get drafted, go to training camp and show that team that they made a good pick."
It's that unassuming, blue-collar approach that has allowed Bonner to get to this point in the first place.
Back during his days at Reservoir, he worked to become a leader for the Gators' program — helping guide the team to a state title in 2010 before registering 31 points as a senior and becoming the first player in program history to be named Player of the Year.
Then at UNC-Wilmington, he burst onto the scene as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association All-Rookie squad as a freshman and then worked his way all the way up to being named the CAA Scholar-Athlete of the Year this fall as a senior.
Every step along the way Bonner says he's stayed focused and simply been pleasantly surprised as more and more doors have opened for him.
"Going all the way back to when I started high school, I remember not even really being sure I would get a chance to play in college. Then, going into college, I thought that was definitely going to be it — I would play and then once I graduated I would go on to get a regular job like everyone else. But I've been very fortunate so far," Bonner said. "My philosophy has always been to work my hardest, do my best, and just see where it takes me."
As a player, Bonner has always been a standout. Even he, though, acknowledges the huge improvements to his game since his high school days. He's always been one of the tallest players on the field and that allowed him to be a great target striker, but now he has added some muscle — up to 215 pounds — and quickness to become even more versatile on the offensive end.
This fall, he finished as the leading scorer (7 goals, 6 assists) for a Seahawks team that finished 8-8-3 overall.
"I've focused a lot on being more multi-dimensional and I feel like that's helped me a lot in terms of getting to that next level," Bonner said. "I'm definitely faster and stronger on the ball than I was when I came into college."
Bonner says it first started to sink in that might have a chance to play professionally last summer, as he played with the D.C. United U-23 squad. He held his own and began being noticed by Professional Developmental League coaches and scouts.
Then, once the college season ended in November, things really began to pick up as agents began getting in contact with him.
He eventually decided to sign with Ally Mackay from Global Premier Management and, shortly after, got an opportunity in December to go to the New York Red Bulls combine. Things kept breaking his way, as he also received an invitation to attend the adidas MLS Player Combine in Florida.
There, Bonner continued to turn heads with his play and intangibles. During the performance tests, he had the fourth fastest time in the 30-meter dash (3.99) and posted the fourth highest vertical (31 inches).
He also got an opportunity to do sit-down interviews with the Red Bulls and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
"The whole thing was an awesome experience," Bonner said. "I was pleased with how I played and I felt pretty confident with how both the interviews went, but still … you just never know. Until someone actually drafts you, there are no guarantees."
While the draft is in Baltimore and Bonner returned home to the Fulton area on Wednesday, he won't be attending the ceremonies in person. Instead, he says, he will be keeping things low key with family and a couple close friends.
The draft itself begins Thursday at 1 p.m., with the first two rounds of the four-round draft taking place. Coverage is available on MLSSoccer.com. The draft will then conclude with the third and fourth rounds, via a conference call, next Tuesday.