The Failed Jersey Swap that Brought French Phenom Elliot Bonnet to the DC Breeze

Photo by Jordyn Harris

JULY 8, 2024
By Marissa Kleckner

At the World Beach Ultimate Championships in Huntington Beach, California last fall, Frenchman Elliot Bonnet had led France to the stunner of the tournament. After guiding the French national team to a win over the U.S. in the semi-finals (and going on to beat Spain in the final), Bonnet went up for a jersey swap with DC Breeze star Rowan McDonnell. For Bonnet, as a young ultimate player, McDonnell was the ultimate jersey swap. He has been an ultimate star for nearly a decade and one of the few players who has found a way to turn ultimate into his full-time career. To Bonnet's disappointment, McDonnell did not have his jersey with him, but the two swapped their phone numbers instead.

After months of conversations between Bonnet, McDonnell, and Breeze first-year head coach Lauren Boyle, that number exchange had turned into a roster spot. In a span of five months, Bonnet had orchestrated one of the biggest international frisbee upsets at Beach Worlds and picked up his life to move to Washington, DC to become a full-time ultimate player. Bonnet was offered a roster spot on the Breeze with no tryout necessary after his stand-out performance in Huntington Beach. 

Moving in with Ultimate Frisbee Association (UFA) veterans McDonnell, AJ Merriman and Thomas Edmonds, Bonnet dove right into the world of full-time ultimate. He was joining the Breeze and also trying out and ultimately being chosen for the local open club team, DC Truck Stop. With a growing ultimate culture in the United States, it gave Bonnet the opportunity to take his ultimate abilities to the next level. In France and other parts of the world, athletics, and particularly frisbee, are often seen as a side job or hobby.

“It's different but good. The sport is much bigger here, and there is much more support,” Bonnet said. “In the U.S., I feel way more like an athlete; here, I feel like I am seen as an athlete.”

As a young player with lots of talent, the team has welcomed his skill with open arms. Veteran players have acted as mentors helping Bonnet grow on and off the field while he adjusts to life in the U.S. and to playing in the UFA.

“Everyone is so outgoing,” Bonnet said. "I love them so much. They are so kind on and off the field. The DC guys are so kind and so helpful.”

Photo by Alan Bloodgood

Coming into the team with a guaranteed roster spot and not having to try out, Bonnet was worried he had not been given the chance to prove himself and showcase his skills.  The rest of the team, however, did not feel the same. With head coach Boyle and long-time captain McDonnell, the team was excited to have him. The energetic, loud support from the sidelines and the positive attitude of the team has helped Bonnet quickly gain confidence and a sense of belonging. 

“Everyone sees the on-the-field stuff, but what Elliott does for us off the field is just as important,” McDonnell said. “He's been able to connect on a one-to-one level with everybody – he's really important for our locker room culture.”

Having found so much support here, Bonnet has attributed much of his early success in the UFA to the Breeze and the team's culture. The team culture is family-like and fosters an environment that supports individual and team growth. With just one regular season game remaining for the Breeze in Bonnet's rookie season, he is second on the team in goals with 29 over eight games played (missing three for the Windmill tournament) and is tied for eighth in the league. He has stepped up and become an integral part of the new DC O-line. 

Aside from playing, Bonnet is working with McDonnell to create ultimate coaching programs that can be accessed and used around the world to train and grow teams and players. This is helping to grow the sport and allows for more access to elite-level training and technique. 

Over the past year, Bonnet has established himself as an elite player in the ultimate world. While Bonnet has picked up his life and moved to the U.S., he is still an integral part of the French national team. Most recently, he competed in the Windmill Tournament in Amsterdam.

Through the UFA regular season, as just a rookie, he is performing at the top of an elite level. He has taken this opportunity with the Breeze to learn and grow from new coaches and mentors, while helping to grow the sport through his image and work. Snagging Bonnet was undoubtedly the standout part of the Breeze off-season. DC looks forward to a future with him in it, and Bonnet looks forward to continuing his career in DC.

Leaving everything he knew was not a decision he took lightly but one that paid off for Bonnet. Bonnet moved from France to DC looking for a chance at an ultimate career, and he's found his second home in DC. In a sport that is still growing, very few players have been able to turn their passion into a career, but through his skill, determination, and some help from teammates, Bonnet is well on his way. 

In the midst of a three-week break before their final game of the UFA regular season, Bonnet has taken time to reflect on his season and is excited for what the future holds for him and his teammates. 

“The U.S. season is going great,” Bonnet said. “I love DC, and I love the experience. I'm already focused on the [final regular season] game, and I really want to win it and [ultimately] go on to Championship Weekend.”