NOTE: A shorter version of this story first appeared in the winter 2013-14 edition of Concordia University's Broadcaster magazine.
By Jake Knabel, Sports Information Director
Shielded in a part of North America known much more for hockey than soccer, Nathan Douglas didn’t exactly have drooling college soccer coaches fighting to bring him to their respective campuses. Even though the Winnipeg, Canada, native possessed a world of talent, soccer scholarships more often went to American-born players or those from soccer-crazed nations with more exposure at major showcase events.
“I had some options but it might sound a little crazy that I didn’t have many options,” Douglas said. “In Canada you don’t get recruited much. We have university soccer, but when I was in high school we didn’t even have a university that had a soccer team in Manitoba.”
And so the supremely confident Douglas went to work in an effort to extend a soccer career that had begun at the age of four when his parents, Randy and Sandy, decided that Nathan would take up the same sport his two older brothers had. The expenses related to playing hockey meant that soccer was a better fit for the Douglas family. That was just fine with Nathan, who would see the game in part as a ticket to experience something different.
That something different ended up being Concordia. While during his formative soccer years Nathan developed grand designs on playing at the highest level possible, current Bulldog head men’s soccer coach Jason Weides sold Nathan on just how much Concordia wanted him.
And so he arrived on campus in August 2010, taking a chance on a program still trying to find its way on the heels of a 4-13-1 season in 2009. Little did he know at the time, Nathan was embarking on a stay that would last four years, during which he would completely alter the attitude of Concordia men’s soccer. After four seasons, 73 games played and 43 career goals, Douglas’ impact upon the program is undeniable.
“When he first got here there were a lot of players on our team that feared opponents,” Weides said. “They feared quality competition and didn’t necessarily picture themselves at the same level with some of the better teams. He’s been a part of that culture changing within our program. When we step onto the field we don’t have guys anymore who are fearful of the opponent. He’s helped push fear out the window.”
With Douglas providing the firepower, Concordia has rebounded with three-straight seasons of 10 or more wins (one of four GPAC schools to accomplish the feat). Regarded by many within the GPAC as the league’s top striker, Douglas’ résumé includes three all-conference honors, Capital One Academic All-America distinction, Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete recognition and the title of Concordia’s all-time leading goal scorer.
“I’m somewhat satisfied. I definitely haven’t had a bad career,” says Douglas, known to set the bar almost unreachably high. “I should definitely count my blessings. I’ve been able to stay somewhat healthy for most of my career.”
The possibility of a career at Concordia seemed improbable at best throughout most of Douglas’ time as a prep at Westgate Mennonite in Winnipeg. Douglas knew nothing of Concordia and Concordia knew nothing of him until a dominant Canadian select team, including Douglas, showed up in Omaha for a showcase late in his high school career.
Douglas and company rolled through a field of accomplished hand-picked travel squads at the tournament that Weides happened to be attending. Douglas and several of his teammates were no longer a secret – at least among the group of onlooking coaches who were clearly impressed.
Still, Douglas may have been overshadowed by some of his teammates at the time – many of whom also went on to play collegiately.
“It was just a matter of not enough eyes seeing him,” Weides said. “He would have definitely had more opportunities especially if he were a kid playing here in Nebraska and going to showcases around the country. There would have been more coaches looking at him than in the spot he was up in Winnipeg. He also was playing on a really talented team.”
Weides soon got Douglas to visit Concordia. He arrived along with other international recruits Chris Podlich and Todd May, who would eventually become Bulldog teammates. Less than a week later, Douglas jumped fully on board – at least for one year.
As someone who tore up the Premier Development League as a 17- and 18-year-old, Douglas kept an open mind about the possibility of leaving Concordia for a perceived higher level of collegiate soccer. Over his first two seasons, Douglas and Weides talked often about the possibility of breaking apart.
But nagging injuries early in Douglas’ career limited his production to some degree as well as his potential transfer options. As it turned out, life as a Bulldog suited him just fine.
“Being injured all offseason there was no way I was going to be able to transfer,” Douglas said. “It kind of kept me here, but at the same time it was my decision to make. I decided to stay. I don’t regret it at all. I’ve made some fantastic friends here.”
Douglas says that Concordia came with several advantages he desired. Coming out of high school, he wanted to leave Canada but he also wanted to stay close enough to home that he didn’t have to fly. Plus he wanted the whole American college experience that would provide a close community feel while fostering fellowship and friendship on a campus setting. And as Douglas pointed out, “it’s definitely warmer in Nebraska than where I’m from.”
When Douglas showed up in ‘tropical’ Seward, Weides expected his prized recruit to anchor the midfield, or perhaps even the back line. But it did not take Bruce Arena to quickly realize he belonged elsewhere.
“I don’t think I ever saw him in the forward role so we really recruited him to be more of a midfielder and possibly a defender,” Weides said. “When we got him here it was obvious he had a knack in and around the goal. Right away off the bat he was a forward for us.”
And so began a four-year run of putting GPAC keepers to shame. Using his characteristic flair and swagger, Douglas did what he did best – put the ball in the back of the net.
“It’s my favorite feeling in the whole wide world,” says Douglas of scoring goals. “I play soccer first of all because I love it. Second – I love winning. I love the competition. There’s nothing better than winning and especially scoring and helping your team win. It’s a great feeling. I love it.”
As someone who “oozes confidence” as Weides put it, Douglas looks forward to a future just as bright as his present. The physics major does not know exactly what that future will hold, but what he feels now is no different than what he felt four years ago, still in Winnipeg working towards his shot at collegiate soccer.
Says Douglas, “I’m just going wherever the wind takes me.”
No matter where the wind takes him, Douglas will always be known to Weides as a winner who came down from Canada to lift up the program while positively impacting the lives of others.
“He helped instill hard-working values and beliefs and that winning mentality within the program,” Weides said. “I think he’s the type of player that brings out the best in teammates. A really good player does that. They’re not just good – they help the people next to them become better.”