Laredo Heat SC goalkeeper Connor Durant has made a meteoric rise from sixth-stringer to pro prospect since returning to soccer in 2019 with Colorado Mesa University following six years of focusing on American football.
Laredo Heat SC goalkeeper Connor Durant owes his soccer career to his best friend Cody Calcagno who aided his return to the sport he loves. Following six years away from the game, Durant made the most out of a tryout Calcagno helped him earn at Colorado Mesa University in 2019, and he has orchestrated a meteoric rise since from sixth-string keeper to pro prospect.
“One of the biggest reasons I got back into it was I missed the game. I played since I was five and stopped to focus on football. Getting back into soccer has been great,” Durant said. “I have to shout out my best friend Cody Calcagno. He’s the one that got me to Mesa. He’s the only reason I was able to get a tryout. He was in his senior year there and went to the coach about four times and eventually got me a tryout. It’s the best decision I ever made in my life to come back.”
A defensive-minded leader on the pitch, the allure of contributing to an offense is what initially pulled Durant toward focusing on football. He was the leading receiver at Standley Lake High School in his junior and senior years combining for 97 catches, 1,909 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also showed early signs of his future defensive prowess recording 102 tackles and six interceptions.
“One of the reasons I stopped playing soccer was it felt like I wasn’t contributing as much. As the level gets higher for soccer, you find out you’re not just standing back there,” Durant said. “Even if you are not touching the ball, with your communication you can change the game in a whole lot of ways. You can change the mentality and psychological part of the game. It’s a whole different game not being able to go score, but I like it more. I enjoy taking away opportunities to score.”
Durant was recruited to convert to fullback and played a couple seasons at Colorado State University Pueblo.
“It was a good experience for sure. The coaching I had was great at CSU Pueblo,” he said. “Sammy Sewell, the running back coach I had, is one of the best coaches. He taught me how to be a good man. I gained a lot out of it. I appreciate the time I had playing football.”
Nothing was given to Durant in his return to soccer as he began as a sixth-string goalkeeper in 2019 and worked his way up to a starting role last fall. He started all but one match for the Mavericks during a 16-4-2 run to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title and an NCAA Tournament appearance. CMU won in the second round beating Colorado School of Mines 3-2 on penalty kicks, and it was edged 2-1 in overtime against No. 6 Cal State LA in the third round.
Durant excelled all season allowing just 12 goals in 21 starts while recording 10 shutouts and a 16-3-2 record. He was named the RMAC Goalkeeper of the Year and a first-team All-American among many honors.
“His story is such a great positive, especially with a lot of negativity going around in the world in general,” Heat head coach John Powell said. “He walked on at a program after a couple years of playing American football and came on as a lower-ranked goalkeeper where he’s not even traveling. Then he became in my opinion the best Division II goalkeeper in the country last year, and this fall he’s going to be great. He will play after college. He has the mindset and is already getting interest. He’s going back to college so he can’t speak to anyone yet, but there are definitely people taking notice and asking questions about him.”
One of Durant’s victories earned him the opportunity to join the Heat this summer. In Powell’s fourth game as head coach of Northwest Nazarene University, he was impressed by the skills Durant displayed leading Colorado Mesa to a 2-1 victory over his squad.
“I knew right away this was a guy that had something about him. He is an amazing athlete, and he has this leadership in him that you can’t teach,” Powell said. “We knew we were getting a good goalkeeper, but he has exceeded all expectations. He is a true leader and gets along with everyone on the field and off the field as well. He is a really special goalkeeper and hasn’t even begun to reach his ceiling.”
While the difference of about 5,000 feet in elevation and the drastic increase in temperature have been adjustments in the shift from Colorado to Laredo, Durant has not been alone in the transition. Colorado Mesa midfielders Colton Schafer and Daisuke Takanaka also joined the Heat this summer.
“It makes it a little easier to get into it because we are all in the same boat,” Durant said. “Now everyone on this team feels like family and feels like a brother. The chemistry took off. The chemistry off the field translates on the field and makes everything fun. I’m having a great time down here.”
That chemistry has the Heat pushing for the No. 1 seed in the Lone Star Conference. Laredo sits alone in first place heading into the final quarter of the regular season at 7-1-1. Durant has started all nine games for the Heat as they have posted five clean sheets and allowed only six goals. The 0.67 goals allowed per match leads the conference and ranks third among the 95 teams in the National Premier Soccer League.
“Our back line, midfield and up top have been playing so well,” Durant said. “Our defense and our shape have been so great in every game. Every day our chemistry grows outside of soccer and on the field. When you have that chemistry, it helps so much.”
Laredo has had stretches of dominant defense like conceding only three combined corner kicks in four victories. With such a talented back line and overall roster playing in front of him, Durant has often joked about not having to do much to earn his clean sheets.
However, even in those matches his leadership and coordination prove invaluable. He also has shown he is equally effective against pressure from talented teams. The Denton Diablos FC (5-2-1) had scored multiple goals in six of its first seven games prior to the Heat’s 3-1 road victory on Thursday. The Diablos generated several scoring chances throughout a back-and-forth first half, but they were limited to just one goal which was scored while Laredo was temporarily shorthanded due to injury.
“It was a running joke where he’d say, ‘Coach, I’m getting clean sheets and I’m barely making any saves.’ I’d tell him I like that. It’s a good problem,” Powell said. “Then we had a weekend like this where he was massive. In both matches he had a game-saving save or two. He also showed great ability on crosses. I have not seen a collegiate goalkeeper command and control his 18-yard box like he does. People are putting services in 10 yards out, and everyone knows it is Connor’s ball. He comes and collects it. The guy is unreal.”
Laredo completed the sweep of its North Texas road trip on Saturday winning 1-0 over the Fort Worth Vaqueros FC. Durant again made several key saves and consistently broke up crosses on set pieces as the Vaqueros did not generate any scoring chances off their four corner kicks.
“He is a goalkeeper at the top of his game,” Powell said. “He is confident. He trusts his back line, but he takes the pressure off them as well. It is a great relationship right now between him and his back four.”
“We are catching our stride at the right time,” Durant said. “You want to build that confidence heading into the playoffs. I like what I’m seeing from the boys. It will be fun the rest of the way.”
With his ability to cover such a wide area while protecting the web that is his net, Durant earned the nickname “Durantula” from Laredo Heat SC announcer Rodrigo Marina.
“I love that and my family loves it,” Durant said. “Shout out to Rod. He is the best announcer in the game. We’ll see him on ESPN one day. I know that for sure. The nickname Durantula is awesome because Kevin Durant is my favorite basketball player. I love it.”
The Durantula and the Heat are back in action at home at 8 p.m. Wednesday hosting the CF10 Houston FC at the TAMIU Soccer Complex. Laredo earned one of its clean sheets when the teams met in Katy winning 4-0 as Houston picked up two red cards midway through the first half. The Heat can officially lock up their playoff spot and aid their push for the No. 1 seed with a victory Wednesday.
“We’re just trying to keep winning and trying to bring a national championship to Laredo,” Durant said. “First we have to get the conference championship, then we’ll worry about that. We just have to keep playing.”
Tickets for Wednesday’s match are $5 for general admission and $20 for VIP, and children 12 and under get in free.
Visit laredoheatsc.com and follow @laredoheatsc on social media to stay up to date on the latest news. Any youth players interested in joining the academy can visit laredoheatscyouth.com for more information.
“When all the fans are here and everyone is going crazy, it is electric,” Durant said. “It keeps the energy and the momentum going. Whenever we need a boost, we can hear the crowd and just keep going. This is a super close town, and the support we get from them is unbelievable.”
Cody Calcagno and Connor Durant