BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
Twitter: @MiSoccerNetwork and @LocalSportsFans
KENTWOOD, Mich. – Brody Conlon remembers not feeling right. Pains in his abdomen and other parts of his middle body caused some cautions and concern. Not the yellow card type of cautions but something more serious.
Conlon, somewhat of a soccer prodigy growing up in a soccer-crazed household in the Grand Rapids area, ended up being informed that had Ulcerative Colitis back in the fall of 2022. For a nationally-ranked then-sophomore who not only plays soccer constantly but even in his sleep, this was some heart-wrenching news. He was a rising star ear-marked for NCAA Division I college soccer or even more.
Simply put: Brody Conlon is very good on the pitch, being considered a top 100 player nationally in his age group. But an illness said other-wise – temporarily.
Ulcerative Colitis is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease in which abnormal reactions of the immune system cause inflammation and ulcers on the inner lining of your large intestine. Ulcerative Colitis can develop at any age, but the disease is more likely to develop in people between the ages of 15 and 30. Conlon was 15 when he received his diagnosis.
“That was hard to take,” admitted Conlon, whose father John Conlon is a highly-successful high school and club soccer coach in western Michigan. “I grew up around soccer and it’s been such a big part of my life. Not being able to play or go out and at least train was really difficult.”elsewhere.
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Conlon ended up missing nearly seven months of action and didn’t return to the pitch until June. He used the unexpected time off to concentrate on his studies as well. On the field, Conlon had to begin to work out the rust in his game, gain back some weight and strength, get back into game-shape and get used to playing soccer at a high level all over again.
“Being (on the sidelines) was really hard because I love the sport of soccer,” added Conlon. “I grew up watching my dad’s teams play, watching some great players (suit up) for East Kentwood and I also played high-level club for years.”
Conlon was heavily-involved in high-level clubs such as the Michigan Wolves or Midwest United and was nationally-ranked on the Olympic Developmental Player circuit during middle school. He had multiple invites to compete for the ODP Midwest Region II and even the ODP National Pool in his age group in a variety of tournaments from sixth through ninth grade.
Conlon eventually entered high school in the August of 2021 and had an amazing season for a standout freshman. The attacking midfielder/forward collected nine goals and 20 assists as a freshman on East Kentwood’s varsity and helped the Falcons advance to the Division 1 regional semifinals that year. The Falcons had two 6-foot-3 center backs on the roster that were pushed up during restarts and Conlon, who took many of his team’s cornerkicks, free kicks, and penalty kicks, was consistently on-point with his serves into the penalty box which led to many of his 20 assists that season. He still had some assists and goals in the run of play but was well-respected and feared with his accuracy on restarts.
Following the 2021 high school season, where his father John Conlon was in his final season as head coach at East Kentwood, Brody Conlon racked in some serious postseason awards for a ninth-grader. He was named All-Ottawa Kent Conference Red Division, All-District, All-Grand Rapids Area, All-Region and on the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association All-State lists, he garnered Division 1 All-State First Team accolades — becoming the first freshman to make the first-team list in Class A/Division 1 since the mid-1980s.
From six to ninth grade Conlon was picked up to play with the Michigan Wolves in the MLS Next Academy system as a highly-ranked prospect and was one of just a few western Michigan players to make the trek over to Livonia, Mich., on the east side and train and travel with the high-level club.
Brody Conlon, who opted to stay with the MLS Next side at the start of the 2022 campaign and not suit up for East Kentwood as a sophomore. He received his diagnosis shortly afterwards and was forced to the sidelines for over a half of year.
Fast forward to 2023 and Brody Conlon is back on the East Kentwood roster playing for former Michigan State and East Kentwood standout Giuseppe Barone, who is now in his second season as head coach with the Falcons. Conlon was recently named the top junior prospect in the state of Michigan by national publication Prep Soccer – and that’s all levels of youth soccer ranging from high school, club and MLS Next – and is also on the Michigan Soccer Network’s Top 50 Players To Watch List. He is a bona fide All-State Dream Team prospect and even a Mr. Soccer candidate as a junior.
“Brody is a very talented young man and we’re glad to have him back,” said Barone. “He is a very gifted player who can both score and (set up) other players. He makes those around him better.”
Conlon is trying to help his team combine to be the best that they can be all while becoming the individual soccer player he can be. That is a work in progress, but he has 11 goals and 21 assists through Oct. 5 and recording points more in the run of play.
Wherever Conlon plays in the attack he is a dangerous player with or without the ball. He often draws double- and triple-teams even though the 12-3-1 Falcons have a ton of offensive talent on its roster.
“I am trying to help my team do the best I can,” admitted Conlon. “Sure, I think winning awards is nice. But I am glad just to be playing again and playing for my high school again. There’s such a feeling of community playing for your school. It’s really special playing for East Kentwood. I kind of missed last year.
“I used to come watch all of my dad’s teams growing up and I was on the (bench) with him when they won some of those state titles,” added Conlon. “There’s nothing like it in front of all of those fans.”
Conlon, one of three former MLS Next Academy players who opted to play for EK this season, is having a great season for the Falcons. East Kentwood made its way into the Division 1 Top 15 rankings in the second week and has maintained its presence there as one of the top teams in the state. The program also welcomed back 13 letterwinners and they have all blended into a successful unit this fall.
“We did have a lot of guys back that played here last year and for the (three) of us who came over from MLS Next, I think we have a great group this season,” admitted Conlon, who is still considered a high NCAA Division I recruit.
The Falcons are in contention for the OK Conference Red Division title, along with several other quality teams, and have their eyes set on something that East Kentwood has been known for over the last 20 years – and that’s winning postseason championships.
“We want to go as far as we can,” said Conlon, who is far from decided if he will play high school ball as a senior. “I love this group of guys and we know that we have the talent to go a long ways.”
And perhaps return East Kentwood back to the top of the Division 1 mountain.