With seconds remaining in Minnesota’s 23-13 win over No. 14 Wisconsin, cornerback Coney Durr was ready to finish some business. The Gophers offense took one final knee and Durr fixed his eyes on the prize – Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
“Me and Phillip Howard talked about who would get the Axe first. I kind of went behind some people and ducked off so I could be the first one there. I kind of cheated and got a little head start,” Durr said.
The sixth-year senior cornerback returned for a magical moment like this. He sprinted to the end zone, snatched the Axe and hoisted it in celebration. Thousands of fans followed behind him as Minnesota’s players “chopped” the goal post. For a minute, Durr felt like he had the entire state in his hands.
“It was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had just to get there first. From all I’ve been through in college, it’s really the only way to go out on Senior Day,” Durr said. “The only way I could see us going out better is a National Championship.”
However, the senior’s special moment was not complete until he found one of his biggest fans on the field. Karlyn, Coney’s mother, jumped down on the field and searched for her son through the sea of maroon and gold. Eventually, while dancing around with the students, she heard, “Mom, mom, mom.”
“Coney said, ‘Where’s your phone?’ And I said, ‘It’s dead.’ He hugged me, he grabbed me and we ran out of the crowd and went to the stands where his dad was sitting and his dad jumped over and we all started taking pictures,” Karlyn Durr said. “I got chills. The whole excitement of it all is just seeing him because I know how hard he has worked to get to this point. With all the sacrifices, it was like a relief.”
Coney is thankful for the support of his mom, who has attended nearly every football game since he started playing at six years old. Before each home game, Durr waits for his favorite pregame tradition – a hug from his mom.
“She made probably 98 percent of my games throughout my career. Just to end my career like that, as far as college, with a big rivalry win, storming the field and experiencing that moment with her, it’s like no other,” Durr said. “Before every game, I run up to her and give her a little hug. When you have that support on your side, you take advantage of it because not everybody on the team has that support.”
Before the season began, Durr said he returned for another season because the team had unfinished business to accomplish. Winning the Axe was certainly part of the “business” that Coney had on his mind. It is one of the reasons why Saturday’s Axe celebration was extra special for Durr and his family.
“I can’t even talk – I’m hoarse. I screamed, hollered and yelled. I have a history of cheering. Just to see him run like that and so excited, it was so amazing. It was priceless and I’m just so happy for all of the kids,” Karlyn said. “That business he talked about this offseason is finished, it’s finished. Coney and the team finished it.”
Coney’s Biggest Fan
Durr’s “Axe moment” was the culmination of hard work over the past six years. He tore his ACL in 2016, endured coaching changes and handled adversity in his personal life. Durr’s grandmother, Thelma Durr, passed away in 2020. She supported Coney during every key moment of his life and even sent him in-depth postgame football texts, packed with plenty of emojis.
“My mom loved my son as if he was her own kid. Her slogan was, ‘My grandson, my grandson, they’re going to hurt my grandson. My grandson, my grandson,’” Karlyn said. “She would sit there and literally text him after the game, these long texts. And he would read it because when I would talk to him, he would send it to me, or tell me about it.”
Karlyn knew one of Coney’s biggest supporters needed to be part of the Gophers Senior Day ceremony, so she grabbed a picture frame. Durr’s mother surprised him by bringing a photo of his grandmother onto the field.
“I didn’t expect it. I actually have the same picture tattooed on me. Just to have that picture, it was pretty cool to have my grandma be a part of it,” Coney said. “I know if she was alive, she would have definitely wanted to experience that moment.”
Durr’s grandmother was in attendance for Minnesota’s 31-26 win over No. 5 Penn State in 2019. Now, two years later, the Gophers cornerback fittingly capped Senior Day with another magical field storming victory.
“I know she was looking down and smiling. Everything I’m doing now, I already said I was going to do,” Coney said. “She played a huge role in getting me where I’m at today when my mom couldn’t.”
Family Guides Durr
Durr’s family has guided and supported him during every step of his life. Karlyn made the long trip to Minnesota from Louisiana for every home game. While in Minneapolis, she often cooked meals for Durr and his teammates. Karlyn made it her goal to bring a slice of home to players who were away from their families.
“He likes my seafood pasta that I make. He really enjoys it, all of my food. He will eat one big plate, he’ll wait a few minutes and say, ‘Mom, can I have some more?’ He gets another plate,” Karlyn laughed. “I cooked a lot of food this Thanksgiving and one year I actually shipped some food up there when he first got there and the kids ate. This all has been just so awesome and priceless.”
Outside of Durr’s accomplishments on the field, he will leave the University of Minnesota with degrees in Human Resources and Business Management. He completed those major academic milestones while juggling life as a student-athlete. Now, looking back, those accomplishments mean more to Durr’s mom than any win on the football field.
“He has two degrees and it’s a lot to balance with football and then to have school and meetings, but the coaches and the staff make it all happen. They make it happen for the kids and I’m satisfied and I’m blessed and I’m grateful,” Karlyn said. “Him having two degrees makes me more proud than anything.”
A Role Model
Durr’s impact also extended into the Twin Cities community. After games, the Gophers cornerback is greeted by young fans outside the stadium. It even happened after Saturday’s big win over Wisconsin.
Once the locker room celebration ended, a family was waiting outside in the cold for Durr. A young Minnesota football fan was excited to present Coney with a custom drawing.
“You know when it’s fourth down and they all hold their hand up? That kid drew that picture and gave it to Coney,” Karlyn said. “When he came out and this kid ran up to him and he showed him this picture, Coney was like, ‘Man, wow.’ It looked just like Coney and he took his time. I’m sure he didn’t draw it that night. Just to think of somebody in that way. We have the picture and I told him, we’re showing this to your kids some day.”
Coney is putting the drawing in a frame so he can view it on his wall every day. The photo reminds Durr how much he can impact the lives of others, including young kids.
“For a little kid to put the time in to do that, it gives you perspective on how you affect people’s lives,” Coney said. “You have to look at it like when you were a kid. I used to look up to the guys at LSU, but those kids in our area look up to us like I looked up to those guys. So you just have to look at it in that way and be the best role model.”
Durr and his family are thankful for the past six years at the University of Minnesota. Despite being more than 1,200 miles from Louisiana, Coney never felt alone. Karlyn credits Minnesota football’s culture for easing that transition.
“The culture that P.J. Fleck has built there is one that I’ve never even seen on TV and I’ve watched a lot of football,” Karlyn said. “I haven’t seen a culture put together like that at all and you have to experience it. That’s what I tell parents.”
Six years after Durr arrived in Minneapolis for the first time, his family has developed a special connection with Minnesotans. It is something that each of them will treasure forever.
“When I got to Minnesota, I was told that you’re in a state where the people are ‘Minnesota Nice.’ And I was like, ‘Minnesota Nice? I’ve never heard of that,’” Karlyn said. “And I can honestly say, it’s been a Minnesota Nice ride for us and that’s from the heart. On and off the football field it has been nice, Minnesota nice.”
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