For Danny Quintero, it has always been a dream to "keep playing soccer."
After starring for the last few years on one of the FCIAC's winningest programs, Quintero, an all-conference first-team defender during his senior season, now has that opportunity.
The former Norwalk High standout recently committed to play for Division II Southern Connecticut State University--a soccer powerhouse with six national championships (most among Division II programs) and 32 NCAA Tournament appearances.
"It's a new beginning. I'm going into a great program so hopefully things work out like they did at Norwalk High. We had a great program for the four years that I was there, so hopefully I can continue that at Southern," said Quintero, who also considered Central Connecticut State, New Haven and Western Connecticut.
At Norwalk, Quintero made an impact on both ends of the pitch, totaling 12 career points (one goal, 11 assists) while limiting the conference's elite strikers. As a senior, he helped lead one of the most dominant efforts in program history, as the Bears (15-4) surrendered just 16 goals and reached the second round of the Class LL state tournament.
"He's really improved every single year and everything he's gotten he's earned. He's definitely a great soccer player," said Norwalk head coach Chris Laughton, adding, "The thing I respect most about him is his leadership. He's one of the best leaders I've ever had as a coach. Kids really look up to him and respect him."
Prior to last season, Quintero was rewarded for his leadership, sharing captain duties with college-bound teammates Andres Torres and Jake Zuniga, and he was later the recipient of the Coach's Award--given to the player who best leads by example for teammates.
"I always wanted to make an example on and off the field for the younger guys," Quintero said. "I know from my freshman year there were leaders but I didn't feel like we had enough leadership. As the years went on, coach elected me as one of the best leaders on the team. I wanted guys to follow me and make the right decisions."
After Quintero debuted with Norwalk's varsity team as a sophomore, helping the Bears win 13 games, the defender honed his skills in the offseason and soon made "huge contributions" as a junior, Laughton said.
"I just thought every single year, he got better and better. He got in better shape, he got stronger, he really worked on a lot of his technical skills," Laughton said. "By the time in his junior or senior year, I thought he was one of the best, if not the best outside back in the FCIAC."
Quintero recalls making the commitments to reach that level and it has now paid off considerably. In joining Southern Connecticut State--a member of the Northeast-10 Conference--he'll be part of a program that went 14-2-4 last year and was ranked No. 12 nationally.
He has played the last two years with Beachside Soccer Club, a Connecticut-based premier team founded and directed by former professional player Mickey Kydes.
"Going into my sophomore year I didn't start, but I knew I could've started. So then just one day, I said `I want to play as much as I can,' so I have to try harder," he recalled. "Ever since then I got my position and I never had to sit the bench ever again. It was a commitment but it feels good once you're on that field playing the whole time."
With Quintero's stint at Norwalk now complete, the defender remains grateful for what the Bears--a contender in the state tournament for four straight years--were able to achieve.
"It gives me a lot of pride for what I did because we accomplished so much," he said. "The town was always looking up to us. I came in the same year as my coach and ever since, the program grew so much."