When Maryland men's lacrosse coach John Tillman asked midfielder Bubba Fairman whether he wanted extra shooting practice, the freshman surprised his coach by saying he'd already been getting bonus behind-the-scenes reps with senior midfielder Connor Kelly.
Kelly generally goes about his business quietly, but Tillman said he's repeatedly taken that kind of initiative to lead Maryland's offense this year.
In his final season in College Park, Kelly faces the same challenge that former Terps stars Matt Rambo and Mike Chanenchuk overcame before him. Now wearing those players' No. 1, Kelly has been tasked with becoming more of a distributor on the field and leader off it.
It's a role that will be highlighted starting Wednesday, when No. 3 Maryland hosts Penn. Tillman said the Quakers are returning almost all of their offensive production from last season and the Terps are bringing back about half, which means Maryland's attack will depend on Kelly's ability to pass the ball.
"What he's trying to do is be a complete player," Tillman said. "As a senior leader, he realizes that there's so much more he needs to do now. Now's the time to make sure we're organized and doing the right thing."
Kelly's tenure with the Terps started as a freshman playing on the second midfield. It evolved into the Easton, Connecticut, native scoring 46 goals last season — a new single-season record for a Maryland midfielder.
Kelly also has experience playing with Team USA, which Tillman said helped him mature. With a loaded Team USA roster, the team didn't depend on Kelly for production, but Kelly still sought to improve his leadership qualities.
"It's been awesome being a leader," Kelly said before the season. "I've learned so much throughout the fall and January. We have a great senior class."
Kelly's new role as a passer as well as a scorer was evident in Maryland's season-opening win against Navy, when he scored once and recorded three assists. The same proved to be true in the Terps' 13-7 win against Marist, when he found the net four times and notched four assists.
"He's a very unselfish guy by nature," Tillman said. "When it comes down to it, he's got some capable teammates that will not only score but will look for him as well. He's done a good job with it so far."
Though Kelly has embraced his role in Maryland's passing game, he was still willing to use his killer instinct in the Terps' 16-14 win against High Point. As the Panthers rallied, Kelly's score with about seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter helped the Terps maintain a two-goal advantage.
Even without Rambo and former Terps attackman Colin Heacock, Maryland has scored at least 10 goals in each of its first three contests. That might be difficult to replicate against a veteran Penn team, but with Kelly leading the offense, Maryland likes its chances.
"I like the way those guys approach things," Tillman said. "Guys aren't concerned about getting their goals. They just want the offense to be successful."