By Craig Forde
When Felix De Bona was called to the office of Somerville High School athletic director Nicole Viele on a Wednesday morning, a million thoughts raced through his head.
Two days earlier he had spent a few hours at the MIAA offices in Franklin, sitting in front of a three-person Eligibility Review Board, pleading his case for a waiver to play soccer in his senior year at Somerville.
Because of his background and age, the 19-year-old De Bona knew that it might be a tough sell, as did Viele and soccer coach George Scarpelli.
“We weren’t really confident that they would approve him,” said Scarpelli. “But we were going to do everything in our power to try and get this kid that waiver.”
After De Bona entered Viele’s office, shut the door, and sat down, he looked across the desk and heard her first word, “Unfortunately . . . ”
“My heart was beating through my chest, I thought I was in trouble for something,” said De Bona.
However, Viele was being lighthearted about the situation that had taken nearly a month to be resolved, and she finished her sentence with, “You got your waiver and you can play soccer.”
A rush of relief engulfed De Bona and that afternoon he pulled on his No. 9 Highlanders jersey for the first time, logging five minutes against Everett, where he had starred for two seasons.
Almost instantly, anonymous naysayers started hitting the Internet in attempts to dispel De Bona’s eligibility.
They questioned his age, stating that he is anywhere from 21 to 25, and they questioned his amateur status, stating that he was a professional soccer player in Spain prior to reaching Somerville.
Over and back
In pursuit of better employment opportunities, De Bona’s parents uprooted their family from Felix’s birthplace in Urussanga, Brazil, in 2001.
Their journey took them to Everett, and 8-year-old Felix found himself in a new country with no friends, unable to speak the language.
He used soccer as his outlet, constantly honing his skills while getting accustomed to his new surroundings.
Soon enough he had built up friendships and a better understanding of the new culture around him.
By the time he reached Everett High School in 2008 he was a can’t-miss striker, powering home 26 goals as a freshman and 20 more in his sophomore season.
Out of season, De Bona was good enough to play with the New England Revolution’s Youth Academy, where he was paired with Leominster’s Diego Fagundez on the Under-16 team in 2009-10. That season, the forwards netted 24 goals apiece, putting thoughts of a pro contract in their heads.
“We both just wanted to score the goals and help out the team,” said Fagundez. “He was that guy that would come up big on plays. He was a player that I could count on out there.”
When the Revolution awarded Fagundez their homegrown contract, De Bona decided to pursue his professional dreams overseas.
Contrary to Internet reports, he did not sign a contract to play for Malaga CF of Spain’s famed La Liga.
Instead, De Bona caught on with the youth club team of Polideportivo Ejido, in Spain’s Second Division.
Just like with the Revolution, De Bona was part of an academy squad, playing against others in his age range but against stiffer competition than the academy teams in the United States.
“If I was ever a pro, I would still be one,” said De Bona, who was never compensated to play. “Why would I be here if I was a pro?”
He played with Polideportivo for six months then returned to Brazil, where he completed his junior year of academics.
He soon found himself playing pickup matches on the street because there was no local team. Eventually De Bona made the difficult decision to return to Massachusetts on his own, moving in with a family friend in Somerville after he registered to complete his high school education there.
He was ineligible to return to the Revolution’s Youth Academy because of his age, and unable to afford the expenses that come with joining a local club team.
His only chance for playing organized soccer fell at the doorstep of Somerville High School.
Scarpelli was all-too-familiar with De Bona.
His Highlanders had been on the wrong end of many of De Bona’s finishing strikes, but he was willing to help De Bona play out his high school eligibility.
Scarpelli had a team capable of making a run at a state championship before De Bona was around, but he saw a kid willing to do the right things.
“Gentlemen first, scholars second, athletes third,” said senior captain Matheus Reis. “That is Coach’s motto for us. It’s what we all live by and we are a closer family because of it. Felix is a great example of all of this.”
At Everett, De Bona was an honors student with a 3.8 GPA, he was dedicated to the notion of being a scholar and being a gentleman was something that came naturally to the quiet, good-natured kid.
“We did our homework, we would never put what we have in jeopardy,” said Scarpelli in regards to any trepidation he had regarding De Bona’s past. “Who am I to begrudge this kid of his dream to play? I knew I had to do what I could to at least try to help him get on the field.”
Viele began putting together the waiver request form for De Bona at the start of the school year, complete with letters of recommendation and a letter to the MIAA from De Bona himself.
After a couple of weeks they received a response rejecting the initial application, which is common for a would-be player over the age of 18.
The MIAA granted them a hearing, and De Bona’s story seemed to resonate.
“Normally they let you know their answer within a few hours,” said Scarpelli. “One time they even stopped us on the way out the door to give us a verdict. This time we had to wait.”
Once the ball got rolling for De Bona, who scored a hat trick in his first full game against Randolph, there has been no stopping the Somerville offense.
The Highlanders, ranked second in the Globe’s Top 20, have scored 70 goals since his arrival. De Bona has accounted for 28, and he’s made a seamless integration into the family-like atmosphere of the Highlanders’ locker room.
“I tell him that I am going to fight him because he is originally from Everett,” joked senior defensive captain Augusto DeOliveira. “He is like my brother from another mother. I won’t allow anyone to touch him or mess with him. Except me.”
De Bona’s partner on the attack, junior Thayrone Miranda, was already an All-State striker, but he has turned into an offensive force, leading the Greater Boston League in points, with 23 goals and 24 assists, in the regular season.
Success has trickled down to all of De Bona’s teammates, allowing them to get equal notice from the college scouts who have dotted Dilboy Stadium in the past few weeks.
But as Somerville’s team continues to succeed, the detractors seem to grow, and many of the Internet cynics will not be happy until De Bona is exposed for some sort of wrongdoing.
“He needs to let it go in one ear and out the other,” said Fagundez. “If that doesn’t work, then go out there and score more goals, and keep doing it.”
In this age of nonstop social media, it’s hard for a 19-year-old to just dismiss harsh words from people he has never met, but De Bona has done his best to rise above it on and off the field.
In the spring, De Bona will obtain his high school diploma, and he hopes the chance to play at the collegiate level will help him fulfill his lifelong goal of becoming a professional soccer player.
“When [Viele] said I got the waiver to play, it was such a great feeling,” said De Bona. “I’m happy being a part of this team and to have the chance to play every day.”
De Bona is grateful for the opportunity that has been afforded him and he is doing everything he can to prove it to those who have helped him get here, and even more so to those who say he doesn’t belong.