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From Front Office to Draft Room: Dani Collins' Unlikely Road to Professional Soccer

As the 2010 Women’s Professional Soccer Draft kicked off on Friday, many of the top collegiate talent in the country knew that they were just minutes from fulfilling the dream of becoming professionals. The only questions for them centered around which jersey they would put on or city they would play in.

Others, however, had no idea if they would even be given that chance by a team.As stars like Tobin Heath and Lauren Cheney walked onto the stage in the over-capacity Room 201 of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, friends, family and fans alike cheered for the future stars of the women’s game. As the rounds of the draft dragged on and the hours passed, the room cleared out, with mainly journalists, team and league employees, and a few hopefuls with family remaining. But even in the suddenly sparsely populated room, the loudest ovation of the day came for a seventh round draft pick.At No. 62-overall, Danielle Collins was one of the last players selected in the 2010 WPS Draft, but she has one of the most unique stories of the entire lot of 65 draftees.

Collins had already been a part of the Philadelphia Independence months prior to the draft as the team’s Director of Communications. Around the office, she is simply known as Dani. She handles the typical multitude of responsibility that comes with her role: media relations, website work, and just about anything to help the WPS expansion team get off the ground for its inaugural season, which begins in April. She spent most of the weekend at the NSCAA Annual Convention working the booth for the Independence to promote the team.

But in December, Collins decided to take on yet another role for the team. This time, she showed up at Philadelphia’s open tryout not as a staff member, but one of many hopefuls looking for a shot to be a professional soccer player. Unlike those fresh off of their college seasons, Collins was a year removed from finishing her four year career at William & Mary University.

“The season ended last fall and I was injured at the end of the season,” Collins said. “I didn’t enter the draft in time and then I just figured, alright, I’ll graduate, I’ll do this, I’ll finish up school and I actually got a job with the Independence right away. And kind of in the back of my mind I always knew that I wasn’t ready to hang my cleats up yet. So, I started working – kind of worked my way up and I love the franchise and I love Philly.”

The last NCAA game that Collins played in was on Nov. 16, 2008. That was a 1-0 NCAA Tournament loss to Duke, ending William & Mary’s season at 15-7-1, the school’s 27th-straight winning season (now 28-straight seasons, tied for the longest national streak).

So, Collins spent her summer playing her fourth season for A.C. Diablos, a Women’s Premier Soccer League team based out of Atlantic City, N.J. There, she played against now Philadelphia Independence Head Coach Paul Riley, who coached the Long Island Fury to WPSL Championships in 2006 and 2009. She also got involved in men’s league games and pick-up soccer wherever and whenever she could as she tried to stay sharp and feed her passion to play.

“For me, I think it just was – it’s a balancing act in college of school and soccer and it is going to be same thing because now it is work and soccer,” Collins said. “Finding time to train when you are working definitely makes it a lot harder but it is fun.”

Thus far, the struggle is paying off. Collins is not exactly a nobody that happened to get drafted, bust somebody with a legitimate shot at making an impact with the team.She twice received third team All-American honors at William & Mary (2007 and 2008), on top of being named All-Region three times and to the MAC Hermann Trophy preseason watch list twice as a midfielder. She was even called into United States Under-21 Women’s National Team training camp in 2006. In her four year career at William & Mary, Collins registered 11 goals and 10 assists, good for 32 pts.

“Dani is a very good player,” Riley said. “Indeed our front offices are full of top college players and to draft Dani was not a big risk for the club. She is an All-American with tremendous defensive strengths which include her aerial ability, excellent tackling and her superb positional awareness. Dani has deserved and earned this moment and I have high expectations for Dani for our inaugural season.”

Rutgers Head Coach Glenn Crooks also watched Collins develop through her youth days with New Jersey club Lacy Magic, a rival of national-powerhouse PDA.”She has very good mobility for her size and is good in the air,” Crooks said.

“Very disciplined kid; service on the right or left foot. I recruited her hard at Rutgers.”

Riley’s plans for Collins in 2010 are not exactly something you hear very often about a seventh round draft pick in any sport. Then again, Collins’ resume is not one of the average player selected 62nd out of 65 players. How Collins found her name being called in the final minutes of the draft is an even more interesting situation. It almost never happened.

Philadelphia’s open tryouts were the only ones that Collins attended, meaning the Independence was the only team that realistically even knew enough about her to draft the Cream Ridge, N.J., native. The team’s final scheduled selection was in the sixth round (No. 49-overall), where it selected Rutgers defender Jennifer Anzivino. Minutes later, the Independence traded Anzivino to Sky Blue FC (where she will play in her college’s home stadium, should she make the team), in exchange for the No. 62-overall selection. And it was there that Collins finally heard her name.The draft room, filled with family, friends and co-workers from the Independence, erupted as if Collins was just taken No.1-overall. It was only the morning of the draft that Collins found out that she might be selected in the draft, but everything came together nicely for her.

“I’m in a really good place,” she said. “It’s a really good situation. I’m kind of living the dream. It’s kind of surreal. It’s really cool.”

As great as this achievement is for Collins, she realizes that she still needs to make the team. She also has to figure out the future of her role as Director of Communications, which she described as “to be determined” as of draft day.

“Ideally I would love to do both, and I still have to go through the whole process – make the team, do all that,” Collins said. “I think I am realistic about that, but this is an awesome first step, I guess, in the right direction. And I know I want to play, so if I can do that and stay involved on the business as well that would be awesome.”

Christie Rampone already proved to be a successful player/coach in the inaugural Women’s Professional Soccer season as she led Sky Blue FC to a title. Could Collins become the first player/front office worker? She laughs at the absurd title, but is ready for anything

.”Throw it at me and I’ll do it,” she said.


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