Towson transfer Kay Banjo 'fits like a glove' at UMBC

Former Towson star Kay Banjo has been UMBC's top offensive threat through six games.
Former Towson star Kay Banjo has been UMBC's top offensive threat through six games. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

After the pain of Towson cutting its men's soccer program in March 2013 had subsided, Kay Banjo was faced with a life-changing decision: He could go pro and try out for Major League Soccer or finish his undergraduate degree and then use his final year of eligibility elsewhere.

It was a no-brainer.


"My dad has always been big on education, and I know I'm not going to play soccer my whole life, and I need to have something to fall back on," Banjo said. "I had one more semester to graduate. ... It made more sense for me as a person to stay and try to look to play somewhere else."

The biggest beneficiary of Kay's decision has been UMBC, which successfully recruited the senior forward to transfer there. Through six games, Banjo has matched senior midfielder Geaton Caltabiano for the team lead in goals (three), and he leads the No. 14 Retrievers with three assists.

Banjo, who was named the America East Soccer Player of the Week on Sept. 2, may be a newcomer to UMBC (3-2-1), but he has already become a valued member of the team.

"He fits like a glove," coach Pete Caringi Jr. said. "There's not one day that goes by where I think, 'Oh, no, does he need to adjust?' He knows the guys, and you can just see it. And I think the more comfortable you are with players and coaching staff, the easier the adjustment is going to be."

Of the 26 other players on the roster, Banjo said there were only a handful he didn't know before joining the team. The players were as active in recruiting him as Caringi was.

"I went to meet Coach in his office, and literally, the whole team was waiting for me," Banjo said, recalling a meeting in the spring. "I don't think they would've done that at any other big school."

The Washington, D.C., native never thought he would play for another school after agreeing to play at Towson out of Largo High. In three seasons with the Tigers, he scored 15 goals and added 11 assists in 43 games, and he was selected to the All-Colonial Athletic Association's first team in 2012.

But in March 2013, Towson University president Maravene Loeschke — based on a recommendation from athletic dirctor Mike Waddell — told the men's soccer and baseball teams that she was cutting those programs, citing financial and Title IX strains.

Banjo, who still remembers the meeting, said it made sense for him to remain at Towson, get his bachelor's degree in business, and then transfer to finish his athletic eligibility elsewhere.

"From the beginning, he knew that school is the only option," said his father, Babatunde Banjo. "He must finish. If he did not have that option, he would have left the country when he was 16 for Europe. But I wanted him to have an education."

Maryland, George Washington, Wake Forest and Connecticut were among several schools that pursued Banjo. But proximity to his family's home in Upper Marlboro was a key element, and Banjo said he agreed to join UMBC after talking with Caringi, who illustrated that the timing wasn't right for Banjo to turn pro.

"You can't sit out that long [and then hope to start a professional career]," Caringi said of Banjo missing the 2013 season. "It's out of sight, out of mind. So I think that by coming back to school and playing with guys that he's familiar with and comfortable with ... I think the timing was perfect."

It helped that UMBC had graduated its top two goal scorers from last year — forwards Pete Caringi III (13 goals) and Kadeem Dacres (seven goals) — leaving Banjo an opportunity to step into a key role right away for a team that reached the second-round of the NCAA tournament in 2013.

"I think our success last year and how we did nationally really helped him make a decision," said Caltabiano (Mount St. Joseph), who helped coax Banjo to join the Retrievers. "Even after the day our season ended last year, I texted him: 'If we get you next year, we can go all the way.' I think that really helped bring him and convince him that we needed him."


Banjo is wearing the same No. 17 for UMBC that he wore at Towson, and he acknowledged that he still has his Tigers gear. But he said he doesn't get very nostalgic about it.

"To me, it's just a shirt," he said. "I don't think of it and go, 'Oh, I remember all the past times.' Obviously, I still miss a lot of the friends that I made there, but I'm here at UMBC. I'm not worried about what Towson did or what I did at Towson. That was back then, and I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about what I can do here."