When Alex Delgado, Ben Sweat’s former high school coach at Palm Harbor University High School, first saw the USF defender play, he said he knew he saw potential.
“I’ve seen Ben play when he was younger with his older brother Jamison,” Delgado said. “He was going to be something special playing with those older kids.”
On Thursday, when Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber stepped in front of hundreds of fans at the Philadelphia Convention, an announcement was made that spoke to what Delgado saw: Sweat was the No. 14 overall pick to the Columbus Crew.
Sweat was one of 50 Division I seniors invited to the MLS combine this year, where he was on one of four teams playing for the MLS club staff over the course of five days leading up to the draft.
After losing the first round of the NCAA tournament to North Carolina on Nov. 21, he began his focus on the combine with few days off.
“Since that Monday (after the North Carolina game) I’ve been doing training, fitness and working out non-stop,” Sweat said. “I probably gave myself two or three full days off…I didn’t want to lose anything from the NC game. I was in wonderful shape this year, good form, so I wanted to keep that.”
As a Bull, Sweat helped the team make four straight NCAA tournament appearances and was the nation’s 27th best college soccer player according to TopDrawerSoccer.com.
Sweat completed his collegiate career this past fall by helping the Bulls win the inaugural American Athletic Conference (AAC) championship with a dramatic 0-0 (6-5) penalty kick shootout against UConn.
“Being a professional soccer player, either here or in Europe, has been my main goal since I was a young kid,” Sweat said. “I tried to do everything right leading up to this point.”
Junior midfielder Wes Charpie is one of Sweat’s USF teammates who joined his winter break training sessions and said his love for training is a big reason Sweat has made it to the MLS.
“(His extra work) is definitely the reason why he’s gotten so far in where he is today,” Charpie said. “I hope that I follow in the same footsteps.”
Sweat now joins notable USF Bulls that have gone on to play in the MLS, including Jeff Attinella of Real Salt Lake who was also selected 14th in the draft and MLS champion Dom Dwyer of Sporting KC who was taken 16th.
Dwyer tweeted that he was “buzzing” for Sweat and that Columbus “got themselves a player” after Sweat’s selection.
While Sweat helped USF win the inaugural AAC championship, his success began at Palm Harbor University High School when he helped his team earn a state soccer championship.
Delgado, who now coaches at the University of Tampa, said Sweat has grown as a person and a player.
“When I started coaching and meeting him, you could tell that he was immature as far as off-the-field, but his maturity on the field was far beyond,” Delgado said.
As the years went on, Delgado was able to witness Sweat’s development as a well-rounded student athlete.
During their three years together, the team went to back-to-back state championships, winning one, while Sweat became two-time Pinellas County Player of the Year.
It’s these titles that Delgado thinks helped Sweat improve as a player.
“His leadership really grew,” Delgado said. “His mentality changed quite a bit. He set goals for himself at a young age and he realized that he wasn’t far from reaching those goals.”
Delgado said he looks forward to still being a part of Sweat’s professional career, a career that was made from self-determination to constantly train and practice to meet his goals.
Sweat and the Columbus Crew begin their season March 8 against D.C. United.