Lax Star Durden Finds Place In SUNY Potsdam Hall
POTSDAM - From 2009-12, Rashaun Durden was one of the finest defensive players in the SUNYAC and proved to be one of the best in SUNY Potsdam men's lacrosse history.
Durden grew up in a military family and lived in many different locations. He resided in the South, Germany and later moved to Buffalo. He was always a tough competitor and played many other sports, but primarily soccer and basketball.
"When we moved to New York, I had never even heard of lacrosse," said Durden. "It was very strange. A lot of my friends in Buffalo had played it, so that's really how I got into it. I loved it right from the beginning and it kind of took off from there. It was a jump right in and figure it out, kind of thing. As far as what made me stick with it, I picked it up pretty quickly."
Durden enjoyed the speed of the game and the contact. It was also a way to burn some of his endless energy. Fortunately, lacrosse is a spring sport or he may never have had the time to play it.
"If it was a fall sport, I doubt that I would have gotten into it because at that time I really liked soccer," Durden said. "At first I just stuck with it because it was another sport to play in the spring. As time went by, I got more and more into it."
Durden continued to excel and developed into a standout and team captain at Williamsville East High School by his senior year. His play drew the attention of many college coaches including some from DI programs.
"Really the calculus for me came down to either go and do the DI thing and possibly sit until my junior year, as is the case a lot of times," said Durden. "Or, I knew that I could go Division III and have a great time and potentially play all four years. That was really the driving factor. There were a lot of guys that I was playing with and a big thing for them was they wanted to be able to tell everyone that they were playing Division I. That was never really important to me. I just wanted to have a college experience and play lacrosse."
Several factors shifted Durden's gaze towards Potsdam.
"I honestly I knew that was probably going to go to a SUNY school," Durden said. "Just economics. So I was really looking at the SUNYs and I think the year I was coming out of high school, Potsdam had consistently been No. 3 in the SUNYAC. They looked like a team that would always crack the SUNYAC Playoffs. The other big draw was that Potsdam was different from Buffalo. There was a lot of stuff to do outdoors. It was a completely different feel. That was the non-lacrosse appeal. On a school level, it seemed like a good time and it was a good time. But I wouldn't have gone to Potsdam if it wasn't for lacrosse. It looked like they had a good team that looked like it was just waiting to break in."
Another part of the appeal was the Bears three-time SUNYAC Coach of the Year Rick Berkman.
"Berkman and I had a great relationship through my playing career," said Durden. "The main reason I liked playing for Berkman is because I knew he wanted to win. Anybody's who's played for him knows that. That was a big thing for me. Anybody who's been around me knows how competitive I am. So we were very like-minded and wanted to do whatever it took to win."
Durden arrived on campus in the fall of 2008 and joined the team for fall ball. He didn't find it a difficult transition.
"I wasn't nervous," Durden said. "I was definitely confident. I was excited too because I thought the team was good. I thought the guys in the freshmen class with me were good. I thought the guys that were already there were good. School and lacrosse. I was 18 years old so it was a great thing to be doing."
Durden hit the turf with the Bears in the Spring of 2009 for his freshman season. Potsdam held its own to start the year, but struggled down the stretch and in conference play. The Bears lost four games by two goals or less and missed the playoffs.
As he and his fellow young teammates adjusted to the college game, they immediately noticed the play was faster and more physical and each team had more threats than high school opponents. None of it phased Durden and he was even better as a sophomore.
"I never felt like I really needed a moment to get up to speed here," said Durden. "I always felt comfortable and felt like I was ready to compete. Obviously, you get better the longer you've been doing it."
The Bears rebounded for the 2010 season. After a strong nonconference start, Potsdam had a midseason skid before taking three of the final four SUNYAC contests to return the playoffs. Durden was recognized by the league's coaches for the first time, earning honorable mention All-SUNYAC status.
Durden and his teammates came into 2011 excited and ready to reach the next level. The Bears grinded their way through 17 games, including seven that were decided by just a goal. Potsdam opened with an exciting 22-20 victory over Medaille in Myrtle Beach and found itself with a 3-1 record after a 19-1 blowout of Cazenovia. The Bears were then on the wrong end of another midseason streak, but shook it off as conference play started. Potsdam posted one-goal victories over Brockport, Oneonta and Geneseo before downing Oswego 11-7 to clinch a 4-2 SUNYAC record and the No. 2 spot in the playoffs. In the semifinals, the Bears defeated Geneseo in an 18-17 shootout to reach the SUNYAC Championship game for the first time in program history. In the title matchup, Potsdam bowed to a powerful Cortland squad, but the league had noticed. Numerous Bears earned all-conference status, but Durden shined the brightest. The then junior earned first team recognition, SUNYAC Player of the Year honors and later became the sixth All-American in program history.
"I definitely wasn't expecting the Player of the Year award," Durden said. "I wouldn't say I was that surprised. I thought I had a good year. Everybody that knows me, knows I'm not a very flashy player. I'm very down to the basics. So I don't know how much love guys that played the way that I do were getting. So that was exciting because my style was never very flashy."
Durden felt very gratified to be named an All-American, but admits he didn't fully appreciate it at the time.
"The All-American award was exciting as well," Durden said. "I was excited because it was my junior year. I still had another year and I knew we had a good team coming back. Next year I wanted to be on a higher All-American team and see how good of a year the team could have."
Durden and his teammates were fired up heading into the 2012 campaign. He was named a preseason All-American. However, some key preseason injuries and bad luck eroded the Bears chance for a return to the postseason. Potsdam won five of its first eight games, but faltered at the end of the season and missed the playoffs.
"I've never been more excited about a team that I've been on, more than that (2012) team," said Durden. "Unfortunately that's just the way that is. Sometimes things happen, injuries happen and what have you. That was a really special time for me at Potsdam. The 2011 season, how great that season was and the fall of the 2012 season. The team we had, I just thought was really, really good. I can't remember being more excited about the spring season and it didn't work out that way. It was disappointing."
Despite finishing his career on a somber note, Durden still claimed second team All-SUNYAC honors. He was named the Maxcy/Molnar award winner as Potsdam's top senior male athlete and graduated in May 2012 with a bachelor's degree in communications. His time at Potsdam wasn't finished however. During the summer, Durden enrolled in graduate school and signed on to be the Bears new assistant.
"After I got done, I knew I wanted to get my master's degree and I wasn't real sure what I wanted to do," Durden said. "The only thing I had thought about in school for four years was lacrosse and graduating. Then time was up and I had a good opportunity to be Berk's assistant, so I jumped at that. On the coaching side, it was a great time. I really liked it. The hardest part was that I still wanted to play."
Durden helped the Bears return to the playoffs in 2013 and 2014. The second year, Potsdam posted a 10-6 record, the most wins in 14 years, and clinched the two seed in the SUNYAC Tournament.
After the season, Durden completed his master's in organizational performance and leadership technology and looked to the future.
"I realized after I finished the two years that I loved lacrosse, but I didn't really want to coach for the rest of my life," said Durden. "They were two years where I still wanted to be part of the team. 2014 was really fun. Especially with some of the guys we had on defense. That was a good year to step away. Player and coach for six years was a great experience, but I was ready to get started and do something else."
Durden then headed to the Charlotte, N.C. area to look for a job. Charlotte is a city with a lot of young people and job opportunities. He took a logistics job to pay the bills and then set his sights on the higher education industry.
Durden got his foot in the door at South Piedmont Community College, serving as the enrollment coordinator for a year and a half. He quickly moved on to be a scheduling analyst for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Durden was very satisfied with his position at UNC-Charlotte, but when an assistant registrar position opened up at Yale last March he moved quickly and seized the opportunity.
"I wasn't specifically searching for Yale," Durden said. "When I was at UNC-Charlotte, I knew I wanted to stay in the registrar's office. That was my niche, but I knew that I wanted to move up. I felt very comfortable with what I was doing. I was ready for the next opportunity. The position at Yale just came up and was a perfect fit. It was the next step in my career and it was a lot closer to each of our families. My girlfriend's dad lives in NYC. Her grandma lives in Long Island and my family's in Buffalo. It couldn't have been a better location. Yale is a great employer. I threw my name out there and it worked out. I've been really happy and things can't really be going better right now."
In Yale's registrar's office Durden works with academic scheduling and curriculum management. He finds the space on campus for classes and works with vendors to make sure the university's curriculum management software is working properly.
While, Durden is naturally motivated to be the best he can be, whether on the turf or professionally, he gives SUNY Potsdam a lot of credit for his success.
"I don't have enough good things to say about Potsdam," said Durden. "As far as school and athletics, it's worked out incredibly well for me. Can't say enough about my experience at there and playing for Berk and the athletic administration. The facilities were great. Anybody who is looking to have a good time. Anybody who is looking to play competitively. For lacrosse, I can't recommend Potsdam enough."
Durden will join 142 other members of the SUNY Potsdam Athletics Hall of Fame when he is inducted on Saturday night.