Individually, Conner Antley’s rookie professional season with South Georgia Tormenta FC couldn’t have gone much better.
Earning USL League One Defender of the Year honors after posting strong two-way numbers throughout the club’s inaugural professional campaign saw the 24-year-old accomplish one of the main goals he had set for himself going into the campaign.
“I’d say overall it was a pretty successful year for me,” Antley told the Soccer Down Here podcast. “I set out some goals with our head coach John [Miglarese] before the season started and I was really happy that I was able to accomplish one of those goals winning Defender of the Year. That meant a lot to me.”
In the bigger picture, though, the season didn’t end the way Antley and his Tormenta FC teammates had hoped as the transition from competing in USL League Two and collegiately saw the club’s players hit a wall mentally and physically near the midway point of the season.
After sitting in a strong position at with 25 points from the club’s opening 12 games, Tormenta FC took only 12 points and two victories in its final 16 contests to drop below the postseason line as both Greenville Triumph SC and Forward Madison FC pushed into the top four with strong finishes to the year.
South Georgia Tormenta FC's Conner Antley earned League One Defender of the Year honors while posting six goals and six assists in his first professional season. | Photo courtesy South Georgia Tormenta FC
The experience of going through a full professional season for the first time is one that Antley thinks will put him and his teammates in a good position moving forward as they come to grips with the rigors of the league.
“There were a lot of first-time pros on the team this year, so I think for most of us this was really new,” said Antley. “Whether it was the longevity of the schedule or having to play so many games on the road, our bodies weren’t used to it. We got to that midway point of the season, maybe four or five months in, and our bodies began to get tired. We were used to playing these college seasons that are three or four months long or maybe playing a two-and-a-half month [League Two] season, so for most of us this was the first time that we played a long nine-month season. That played a role in [where we finished].
“When you have these longer professional seasons, you have to take care of your body even more. Not to say that we didn’t take care of our bodies, but you just kind of have to go that extra mile to really make sure your body is at its best every single day when you step out on the field because injuries happen a lot.”
Antley took some time off to recuperate after the end of the season, but said he is now getting back into the gym and onto the practice field with some of his Tormenta FC teammates that have remained in the area. He’s also taken the chance to go home and visit East Coweta High School in suburban Atlanta, where plenty of friends and current players at the school are closely following his path in the professional ranks.
“It’s encouraging to see a lot of people from back home who follow me and follow my career and my success and what I’ve been doing, so it’s always really awesome to go back home,” said Antley. “My twin brother and I, we go up to the high school sometimes and we train up there, just me and him. Some of the soccer guys who know us up there, they’ll come out and they’ll kick the ball with us, and they just ask question after question after question. They just want to learn. I’m thankful that I’m able to share my experiences with them just to help them grow and help them learn.”