Peter is a sports writer at the Bay of Plenty Times

Football: Probert pursues dream at US uni

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Connor Probert will soon begin a football scholarship at the University of Kentucky. Photo / George Novak
Connor Probert will soon begin a football scholarship at the University of Kentucky. Photo / George Novak

Life-changing opportunities do not get much bigger than what awaits Connor Probert.

The 18-year-old attacking midfielder from Mount Maunganui flies out on Monday to begin a full football scholarship with the University of Kentucky based in Lexington, US.

Only a few notable New Zealanders in Ryan Nelsen, Simon Elliott, Tim Brown, Michael Boxall and Tauranga's Tony Lochhead have had the same privilege.

He was hoping to follow a similar pathway to build his profile with the ultimate goal of becoming a MLS league professional in the US.

Probert was signed up by Kentucky's head coach Johan Cedergren without having to meet in person thanks to the exposure he got at the Fifa Under-17 World Cup in Chile last October.

"Midway through last year I got in touch with coach Johan and sent him a few videos and New Zealand games I had had before," Probert said. "He wanted to see more live games of me playing and the World Cup was the perfect opportunity to see four games against the best in the world.

It saved me having to make a trip over there and trial.

"The standard over there is really high with Kentucky ranked top25. It is a top soccer uni and they have just put in a multi-million dollar stadium.

"I just can't wait to get over there."

Probert, son of former All White Paul Probert, grew up playing his junior football for Mount Maunganui at Links Ave. He attended Tauranga Boys' College before a year at Auckland Grammar and then Sacred Heart College for his final two years.

At Sacred Heart he matured into a fine player under the mentoring of former international defender and NZ Under-17 coach Danny Hay.

"Danny was a massive influence on me getting the scholarship. He guided me to where I am over the last two years at schooling and really ingrained the mental toughness side of the game into me," Probert said.

"He taught me what it would take to make it as a footballer. Coming up through my youth it was always dad teaching me everything I knew. He put me in Danny's hands who taught me what I need to do every day and to work as hard as I can."

Kentucky coach Cedergren is expecting plenty from Probert and the five other new players added to the squad.

"Connor brings a lot of high level experience with him to Lexington. He played for the Under-17 New Zealand national team in the past World Cup," Cedergren said.

"He is a very exciting player, who has been called the best attacking player in New Zealand for his age. We expect Connor to come in and compete for time playing in any of the front four positions.

"We have been able to put together a great group of young men who are not only talented on the field but also good in the classroom. This group is going to continue to push us in our quest for championships."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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