KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — In our digital series ‘High School Standouts,’ Digital Sports Reporter Michael Epps features local athletes with incredible talent, hoping to take that talent to the next level.
These are athletes that stand out both on and off the field.
This week’s High School Standout is Brayden Conner, a senior soccer player at Dobyns-Bennett High School.
There’s a standard of excellence at Dobyns-Bennett.
“Obviously it’s a very good athletic school so we want to win everything that we can,” Conner said.
That’s the case in the soccer program. With two state tournament appearances in the last four seasons, this team continues to push itself.
“I think it comes down to their work ethic every day they show up ready to go and they’re thankful to be here and we got to play two games in a year last year so we’re just happy to have a chance,” Dobyns-Bennett head boys soccer coach Tom Laguardia said.
“The coaching staff is really good they push us to a high level and the players try to exceed that every time we go on the practice ground we always try to surpass what we did last practice,” Conner said.
Senior Brayden Conner has been pushing himself on the pitch since he was young, but his path to Dobyns-Bennett was a bit different.
In middle school, Conner was recruited by the Major League Soccer team Atlanta United to participate in their MLS Developmental Academy program.
“So I left home at 13 to go to Atlanta United which is in Atlanta and I lived with a host family there and then 6 months later I went to IMG Academy which is in Florida and that was a beautiful school it was insane and 6 months after that I actually went to Sporting KC which is in Kansas City an MLS academy,” Conner said.
Young Brayden Conner moved away from home to spend time playing and training with extremely high level competition.
“An MLS academy, it’s an honor to go there like only the top players in the country can go to these places so it was truly an honor to be over there and I wanted to try it out,” Conner said.
He also participated in a Regional Camp through the US Youth Soccer Olympic Developmental Program.
These experiences had some incredible benefits on the field but had its challenges off of it.
“It was a very fun experience very different experience I had to deal with a lot of adversity along the way but it was a fun experience I really liked it it was hard the players were really good over there sometimes I would see myself on the bench sometimes starting so dealing with playing time and then also being away from home and away from family was really hard to deal with,” Conner said.
So after about 18 months, six months at each stop, he was ready to come back home and came to Dobyns-Bennett in time to play his sophomore season for the Indians.
“It was very very hard to adapt to that kind of thing at such a young age but I liked it overall and I decided to come home because I missed home missed being with friends stuff like that,” Conner said.
He has some high goals here in his senior season, as reliable as they come in the holding midfielder role.
“Just practicing my technical ability is really good my speed of play and vision is also really good and just focusing on those things and trying to also focus on my weaknesses this year has really developed my game to a higher level,” Conner said.
Then he has some high goals to play at the next level, already committed to play under some strong coaches at Milligan University.
“It’s close to home it’s a very good school academically it’s also a Christian school so those are some of the reasons and just a very high level of play there playing with high level players in that level environment it just really sounds good for me and I’m excited for it,” Conner said.
This guy has been on a journey most high school seniors have not been on, and he appreciates what it did for his soccer career.
“It growed tremendously I got so much better in those two years at the academies the high level the training I got so much better I do not think it’s be the same player I am today no, with the adversity I faced there and the high level of play I faced over there I don’t think I’d be the same player I am today,” Conner said.
After all the craziness, now he’s happy to just be a senior in high school and have some fun playing soccer.
“Super thankful I’m so glad to be here and hopefully we go on a state title run, fun to be here and I wouldn’t want to be at any other school besides D-B,” Conner said.
Follow this series throughout the year as WJHL’s Michael Epps finds the High School Standout every week on WJHL.com.