Connor Banks was a striker.
Heading into this season he was the leading returning scorer on the James M. Bennett roster after picking up seven goals last year.
Having a proven scorer return from a team that finished the season 10-3 is a huge bonus for a coaching staff.
But this year he has none.
Instead he’s racked up saves in net, putting aside his own scoring aspirations to play where he was needed most.
“At the start of the season we could have probably counted on 10-12 goals from him,” Clippers assistant coach Gabriel Kane said. “To know that and decide to take something so valuable as the soccer goal out of the lineup was a big decision. I guess it’s the most valuable thing in sports because it is the lowest scoring sport.”
But sacrifice them they did, putting Connor in the goal, where he has helped the team to a 7-1 record through Wednesday when a home victory against Mardela would clinch the Bayside South title.
Through that contest, Banks had given up just seven goals on the season (3 were penalty kicks) and just once in the last four games have the Clippers been scored on.
“I think just the fact that he was willing to make that switch tells you everything you need to know about Connor,” Kane said.
The last time the junior had played goalkeeper on a regular basis the teams featured names like Blue Heat and Chaos, and he was considerably smaller.
“I guess I was probably 10,” he said with a laugh. “I tried out for goalie as a freshman and again as a sophomore, but I guess (the coaches) liked me better in the field. But they knew I had done it before.”
Despite his proficiency in soccer, Banks first sport may be baseball and he spent the summer playing playing travel ball. But he also found some time to play for the Clippers summer league team, where he played some in net.
Knowing they were looking to fill a void at goalkeeper, JMB coach Skip Ruark asked Banks during the summer where he wanted to play this season. It was before one of the team’s last few summer league games and Banks’ answer was simple.
“Wherever you need me to coach.”
“That was so refreshing,” Kane said. “And obviously it was the correct answer. In that summer league game he made a save to his lower right that we knew right away what we needed to do. He has agility, balance, speed and power. He’s just an athletic young man.
“I’d pick him blind in any athletic competition.”
Banks took what he was told to heart and worked on his skills in net as he got ready for the season to start. He knew he needed to knock the rust off and get better. Summer league helped, but he needed more work, while he knew the offense would be fine without him.
The Clippers, are a senior dominated team, and feature arguably the most talent in the conference this season.
“I was comfortable with it because we had guys coming off the bench like Jonathan Vandever and Ceremy Oneus,” Banks said. “I was comfortable with it and knew coach thought this was the best way I could help the team. I rolled with it.”
It would be simple enough to say that Banks has been effective in goal, but Kane said he has improved every game. He also thinks Banks focused on playing in goal so he could play at the next level, something that several Clippers keepers have done over the last decade.
Banks knows that his athleticism has helped him make up for what he was lacking in fundamentals, but that working in practice has helped as well.
“Matt Darcey is our other goalie and he has helped me a lot with my skills,” Banks said. “He was more the fundamental keeper and I was more athletic, but he’s helped me with my fundamentals and skills.”
Kane is impressed with how Darcey has handled the backup role, while also playing on the field and his own team first attitude certainly has mirrored that of Banks.
Banks welcomed the help and it took a while for him to become more comfortable in the net this year. Early on, he second guessed himself on crosses and worried a little about the communication in the back.
But an experienced defense that he has good chemistry with has really helped take the pressure off. In fact, when he was asked the biggest difference between playing keeper at 10 and now, his answer was simply — “the defense.”
A 3-2 loss at Kent Island on September 17, could have shaken his confidence. But he did what he had to and flushed it, focusing on the next game. It helps that his teammates do their best to keep things light, especially defender Chad Richards.
The team rebounded to beat Parkside 3-2 on Charlie Berry Field at Wicomico County Stadium and that was the moment Banks said he settled in.
“I think it was after,” he said .”I just felt like wow we just beat Parkside and its a huge rivalry. It just gave me a good feeling to be the goalie for Bennett in that game.”
Of course it was also nice that he picked up the win against friend and Parkside keeper Justin Ball who he once backed up in net with the Fruitland Football Club.
Before this year, his biggest memory in net was playing in a championship game for an injured Ball with FFC.
But now he has a season’s worth of memories and a reputation that has earned the nickname “Money” Banks around the team.
Nobody seems to remember who came up with the name, but Banks loves that it gets used, especially by the coaches.
“It stuck because he is kind of money in the bank,” Kane said. “If we see a ball or a corner kick going at him we don’t hold our breath we just know he’s got it and he’s going to make the play. He just finds a way to get to the ball.
“He’s been money so far.”