Connor Kelly quietly the key for Maryland lacrosse's offense

Growing up as one of six children has helped junior midfielder Connor Kelly prepare for life as a member of the Maryland men's lacrosse team. With 49 teammates, Connor compared his current situation to living with older siblings Samantha, Bronson, Meghan, and Abigail and younger sister Maggie in the family house in Easton, Conn., run by Mark and Pennie Kelly.

"Of course there was tension," he quipped about being the second-youngest in his family. "You're battling with one, but then you could befriend another. So it's great. I love the experience. It's awesome to be part of a big family. It's like being on a lacrosse team where you've got 50 brothers with you."

Kelly has developed into a valuable member of his lacrosse family. He ranks second on the No. 8 Terps (6-2 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten) in points with 23 and ranks third in both goals (15) and assists (eight).

Kelly is part of a potent offense that will seek to tag top-ranked Penn State (10-0, 1-0) with its first loss of the season Saturday at 1 p.m. at Maryland Stadium in College Park. While many observers have highlighted the starting attack of seniors Matt Rambo, Colin Heacock (Boys' Latin), and Dylan Maltz, Kelly's play has been nearly as important for Maryland.

As the team's top threat from the midfield, he usually draws an opponent's top long-stick midfielder. That opens the door for linemates redshirt junior Tim Rotanz and freshman Jared Bernhardt to attack the short-stick defensive midfielders and either pounce on chances or create some for their teammates.

Kelly's capabilities also provide the offense with another option to be combined with Rambo, Heacock, and Maltz. Coach John Tillman said he is grateful for Kelly's emergence as an additional weapon.

"I think it's been huge," he said. "I think every year, Connor has made great strides, and we certainly thought a lot of him coming out of high school. I think you really saw in his freshman year that as it went on, he played his best lacrosse at the end of the year. I felt that gave him a lot of momentum going into last year. I thought last year was an example of the great jump that he took, and his progression was a big reason for our success last year."

John Paul can only imagine what Kelly might have accomplished. The Michigan coach pursued Kelly in high school, and the Wolverines were in the running with Maryland and North Carolina before Kelly ultimately settled on the Terps. After watching Kelly score three goals and add one assist in Saturday's 15-8 victory over Michigan, Paul's opinion of Kelly was even more complimentary.

"I wish he was wearing the maize and blue — no question," Paul said. "He's gotten so much better. He's always been good, but he hasn't been as noticeable as he is now. When we were watching him on film, you know where that guy is."

Johns Hopkins could have been a potential landing spot for Kelly, as his brother Bronson was a midfielder there. But Kelly said his brother never pressured him to follow him to Baltimore.

"He said this is your journey, so do whatever you like and whatever fits you best," Connor Kelly recalled. "… I think I wanted to go down my own path. When I came down here to College Park to meet with Coach Tills, it was just amazing. It blew me out of the water, and I just never looked back."

Kelly announced his presence on the national landscape when he moved from five goals and three assists as a freshman in 2015 to 31 goals and 13 assists as a sophomore in 2016. He was later named to the Big Ten and NCAA all-tournament teams.

"You can't really foresee the future, but as a freshman, you just try to come in and emulate all of the older guys," he said. "Playing with midfielders Joe LoCascio and Bryan Cole and Henry West was unbelievable. You just try to learn everything that you can as a freshman, and coming back for your sophomore year, you definitely have that confidence and swagger to try to emulate and do everything that they did."

Maltz said it was evident that Kelly had potential, even as a first-year player.

"He's an excellent player, and he's got great vision," Maltz said. "With me being an inside guy, I know that when Connor's dodging, he's looking to score, but if there's a slide coming, his head is always up."

Kelly said he is not worried about matching his goals and assists totals from a year ago. His primary concern is trying to help Maryland reach the NCAA tournament final for the fifth time in seven years to capture a national championship that has eluded the program since 1975. But even then, he said there's a larger focus before even thinking about the postseason.

"That's always the end goal, but as of right now, we don't want to look at that," Kelly said. "We have the Big Ten coming up, and these are huge games. We really want to get those W's going into the playoffs."

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