Six years ago, Elliot Collier (Hall 2011-2012) was lacing up his football boots to play in front of 20 people in the Waikato Secondary School Football league.
Now, he’s running out in front of 20,000 Americans alongside Chicago Fire teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger – arguably one of the best Germans to ever play the game and winner of the FIFA World Cup in 2014.
You could say he’s ‘living the American dream’.
But like any Kiwi, it all started with humble beginnings.
Indeed, the real journey started back in 2011, when Elliot decided to make the move from his home in Rotorua, to school at St Paul’s.
Before that, he was travelling to and fro with his parents from Rotorua to Hamilton and Auckland for football more than three times a week.
He came into St Paul’s and was under the tutelage of legendary football coach Mike Groom, who Elliot said had a profound and immediate impact on his career.
“Mike was a great coach and he loved the type of football I did and loved the way I played,” says Elliot.
“Our football side was awesome. Working with Mike, our trainings were possession-based and also focused on expressing yourself as a player, which is what I loved to do.”
Of course, Elliot impressed everyone he came up against, but it was through St Paul’s and Mr Groom that Elliot learned about heading to the United States on a football scholarship.
“Mike told me about going to prep school in the United States and how that would help me get a scholarship to a university,” Elliot said. “That started the whole idea.”
So Elliot finished up his schooling at St Paul’s, with his newfound dream of going to the United States, and headed south down to Wellington to attend the Ole Football Academy.
This academy was formed to provide the best options, for the best players in New Zealand football – whether that be professionally, or through the US university system.
“I stayed there for a year and got a scholarship offer pretty early in that year so I was able to focus on my game and develop further as a player.”
That scholarship was to Loyola University Chicago – a prestigious school that competed in the NCAA Division I competition. For university footballers, this was the place to be.
“Loyola was an amazing school,” Elliot said. “The campus is beautiful, the academics and facilities were great. The football team played a good brand of hardworking, possession-orientated football, and I loved playing for my coaches there.”
Elliot always wanted to go pro, but having a backup plan was always important. “I could have got a career-ending injury or something could have happened that stopped me from achieving that goal,” he said.
“So I’m glad I had the opportunity to do what I love while getting a degree at the same time.” Luckily for Elliot, it all worked out perfectly.
After four years at Loyola, Elliot entered the MLS Super Draft – a process used for Major League Soccer
clubs to pickup youngsters out of college.
Chicago chose Elliot, and after a month-long trial, he was signed full-time, bringing the total number of Kiwis playing in the MLS to 10. And just to add to the poetry, he scored a goal in his first start for the club, with Bastian Schweinsteiger out with injury.
He’s come a long way since those days travelling from Rotorua. He now lives in an area of Chicago called Wicker Park, he trains six days a week, and can finally call himself a professional footballer – though he tries his best to just stay focused.
And his advice for those looking to do the same? “Follow whatever drives you. If football is your greatest passion, then follow that wherever that takes you.”
Photo Caption: Chicago Fire footballer, Elliot Collier.
SAM HEWAT (SCHOOL 2006-2010)