Cole Turner is not your average Union academy product who rose through the ranks to the pros.
The 18-year-old defensive midfielder made a college commitment last year, as so many kids his age do. But instead of choosing an NCAA powerhouse, he chose the Naval Academy -- a very different kind of commitment, as it is with other sports.
While in his final months at the Union academy, Turner caught sporting director Ernst Tanner’s eye. Tanner kept watching through the spring as Turner played seven games with Bethlehem Steel, and decided to offer a contract.
Turner thought about it for a while, and decided to accept it. He signed with Bethlehem Steel for the rest of this year, and signed a pre-contract to join the Union on Jan. 1, 2020.
"I found him interesting, and I got the feedback that that he was already committed to the Naval Academy," Tanner said after the deal was announced Wednesday morning. "Over the course of the season, he was doing so well that we were at least telling him that we were very happy with his development, and we could imagine that he could also be a professional."
The Union left it up to Turner to make the decision, understanding that a Navy career is, as Tanner put it, "really something for his whole life."
Turner chose pro soccer.
"He wanted to have the challenge," Tanner said.
Turner has been part of the Union youth program for many years. His parents made the hour-and-a-half drive each way from Churchvillle, Md. -- a small town off I-95 about halfway between Baltimore and the Pennsylvania border -- until Turner was accepted into the residency program at the Union academy’s high school in Wayne.
Along the way, Turner watched as players such as Auston Trusty, Anthony Fontana, and Brenden Aaronson made their way through the ranks. Turner will be the 11th homegrown player signed in Union history, and the eighth since the high school launched six years ago. A further six homegrowns have signed with Bethlehem.
Backing out of the Navy commitment proved to not be much of a problem, because the paperwork tying Midshipmen to five years of military service isn’t signed until after one’s sophomore year.
"I made my decision off what I've been working for my whole life," Turner said. "I have the utmost respect for the [service] academies and I would have loved to be there, but I decided to chase my dream [of] ever since I was a little kid."
That little kid didn’t think that he’d get the chance to turn pro at 18.
“I always planned to go through college and try to enter the [MLS] draft and see where it takes me, but this is an unbelievable opportunity,” Turner said.