VANDALIA – Austin Durbin finished Monday’s session of the Challenger Sports soccer camp in basketball shoes.
One of his soccer cleats – which was just barely hanging on as useable – finally met its demise, splitting open at the seams, but Durbin wasn’t about to let that stop him from playing in the end-of-the-day scrimmage.
And despite the decreased footing, the senior never wavered from his signature playing style – fast and aggressive.
“You can’t ask for anything more,” said coach Walt Kinney of his top returning senior. “He puts in 100 percent every time, and he isn’t afraid to put his heart on his sleeve and go for it.”
Durbin joined the soccer team last fall at the urging of teammate Blake Torbeck, and he instantly became one of Vandalia’s best offensive players, scoring six goals and assisting on two others, often creating scoring opportunities by outrunning the opposition.
Now, he has begun preparation for his senior season, and has already developed into one of the team’s leaders – even though he never played organized soccer before last season.
Small but with an athletic build, Durbin has a prototypical soccer body – one that can withstand running for the majority of two 45-minute halves – and because he is studious, he has improved his skills to the point where he thinks he can tally double-digit goals this fall.
“My touch has gotten a lot better, so I can control the ball a lot better,” Durbin said. “My shot is getting better, and I want to get at least 10 goals.”
Kinney knew he was getting an athlete when Durbin decided to try a sport that “sounded like fun,” given his past history as a guard for Vandalia’s basketball teams.
He also knew Durbin was the type of athlete who would have value, strictly based on his speed.
“I knew he was going to be fast, and I knew he was a smart kid, so I knew he would pick up the game real fast,” Kinney said, “but he definitely exceeded what I thought he would bring to us by having six goals and a couple of assists.”
Durbin wasted no time establishing himself as an offensive threat, scoring a goal in the first game of the season, and adding another in game two.
He then scored in game four, twice in game six and again in game seven, but was held scoreless over the last 11 games, as the Vandals scored just seven goals as they began to meet more-challenging opponents.
Even without a goal, Kinney said Durbin was still improving.
“His confidence was growing,” he said. “As a first-year player, you don’t know what to expect, but toward the end of the year, he got to where he knew he could outrun anybody on the field.”
With the loss of last season’s leading scorer and several other starters, Durbin is likely to see a change in his role this season.
But that doesn’t mean he’ll see a drop in offensive production.
“We lost a lot of offense up top, so he might have to shift back to a center-mid position because of the lack of experience of our other players,” Kinney said. “Even there, he’ll still be in the bulk of our scoring opportunities.”
Durbin’s six goals from last season were just two shy of the team lead, and Kinney said it’s reasonable to think that he could score at least 10 goals.
What may end up being even more important than his offensive contributions are his leadership abilities.
Durbin isn’t the most vocal leader in all of sports, but he understands the aspect of playing as a team, so he often uplifts his teammates when they are having a tough game.
But with just one year of experience, he understands not to overstep his bounds when it comes to instructing new players or dissecting complex situations.
“He’s not afraid to say, ‘I don’t know’ if he doesn’t know it,” Kinney said. “That’s good for a leader, because a lot of guys try to be the hot dog or one-man show, and that’s not him at all.
“He knows how to direct a team without saying ‘I’m the boss,’” he said. “It doesn’t exude out of him like that.”
He just changes his shoes and carries on.
Missions trip helped mold Durbin into strong leader
VANDALIA – Austin Durbin can count on a cold drink and a shower to feel rejuvenated following a tough soccer practice.
But just because he can count on those facts doesn’t mean that he takes them for granted.
After a missions trip to Honduras early in his teenage years, Durbin’s perspective was changed for a lifetime.
“A missionary came to our church and showed us a video of the little kids at the orphanage,” Durbin said. “It broke my heart, so I felt like I should go.
“It was depressing to see the poverty there,” he said. “People have it really bad. There are little things that we take for granted that they don’t have there.”
The trip came a few years into his tenure as a member of the youth group at the Family Worship Center in Vandalia.
Durbin said he has been “heavily involved” with the group for about six years, and that the missions trip was a life-changing experience.
While there, the primary project he aided with was constructing a building for children, giving them shelter from the dangers of poverty.
“It was a thing that you remember for the rest of your life,” Durbin said. “It really sank into my heart.”
The trip is just one of the reasons why Durbin has become a leader on Vandalia’s soccer and basketball teams.
He lacks arrogance, instead encouraging all of his teammates to be at their best for the team’s sake.
“There’s not a mean bone in that kid’s body,” said soccer coach Walt Kinney. “He’ll be there to give you a helping hand if you fall on the ground – even if he’s the one who put you there.”