Connor Kelly flaunted an offensive masterpiece in Maryland’s 13-7 win against Marist Tuesday afternoon, notching a balanced four goals and four assists.
The senior midfielder now has seven assists through two games after passing for just 11 assists last season.
Kelly’s transition into more of a facilitator is reminiscent of Matt Rambo, Maryland’s all-time points leader. But that’s not the only thing that looks familiar, as Kelly inherited the No. 1 jersey from Rambo.
Yet, when Kelly made the switch from the No. 40 jersey number that he wore for his first three seasons, he had to be convinced.
“When [the No.] 1 [jersey] became available, I mentioned something to Connor [Kelly], and I think at first, Connor’s mindset was more of, ‘I’m not a number guy,’” head coach John Tillman said on media day. “I just asked him to think about it.”
It appears as though Kelly thinking about it has paid off. Kelly’s early offensive outburst in the first two games, especially in the assists column, shows the amount of trust Tillman has in Kelly to get things going offensively.
“But also, just understand that we have so much confidence in you,” Tillman said regarding Kelly. “And when I think of the great players that have worn it, [Kelly] merit[s] being in that company. After thinking about it, I think he got more and more excited about it. You know thinking 20 years from now, he’ll see wearing No. 1 is pretty special.”
With this line of succession, Maryland has gone from players like 2006 graduate Joe Walters, whose points record was broken by Rambo last spring, to now a player who not only scored the most ever goals for a Maryland midfielder (46), but looks capable of producing much more this season.
As the impressive line of succession of Maryland players wearing the heralded No. 1 jersey grows more in fame and stature, it is starting to resemble the magnitude of the No. 22 jersey worn by the Syracuse greats of the 1980s and 1990s.
Just like how basketball’s premier number is Michael Jordan’s 23, the Syracuse progression of the Gait and Powell brothers wearing No. 22 had been known as lacrosse’s most famous jersey number.
“I think it’s different,” Kelly said. “I’m not sure historically what it means to wear the No. 22. But I know the No. 1 means you’re just a great guy on and off the field. People who wore that number before me – [Grant] Catalino, [Joe] Walters, [Mike] Chanenchuk, Rambo – all those guys represented this university in the best way.”
“Certainly Syracuse and 22 is pretty special,” Tillman said. “For us, that No. 1 has been successful.”
Even with the recognition of the No. 1 jersey, it’s not the only number that Maryland lacrosse has boasted over the years.
“There’s a lot of numbers that are a little bit like that [No.1 jersey],” Tillman said. “Certainly No. 2, Colin Heacock was wearing that and now Bubba Fairman comes in as a highly regarded guy who we think is going to be pretty good.”
Whether or not Fairman, who scored a hat trick in the season opener, can live up to the high standards Kelly and his No. 1 predecessors have set remains to be seen. However, the way Kelly is filling in as the No. 1 offensive threat for the Terps this season is clearer than ever, and he couldn’t be happier about it.
“It’s truly an honor, it’s a privilege to put that jersey on,” Kelly said on February 6. “I know whenever I put that jersey on, I’m going to represent [the players who previously wore it] and the university the best I can.”
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