Two sides of Connor mesh for Maryland

Flashy facade hides rock-solid instincts

April 16, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Casey Connor tends to resemble a New York street rapper more than a defenseman on Maryland's lacrosse team.

He prefers the baggy-pants style. He sports a couple of earrings, as well as tattoos on his left leg and shoulder blade. He likes his hair trimmed just as short as his menacing goatee.

But while appearances can be misleading, they are flat-out deceiving in Connor's case.

"When he first came on campus, I was a little sketchy about him," defensive midfielder Jeff Shirk said. "He's not the typical prep school kid from Maryland.

"But Casey is one of the smartest defensemen I've been around. He's the guy I go to when I don't understand a defense. He's the guy that just has a way of explaining it and can see it in his mind before it happens better than anyone else. He's one of the main reasons why our defense is playing so well."

Connor, a former standout at Calvert Hall, has become the commander of a Terrapins defense that ranks fourth in the nation with a 7.3 goals-allowed average.

Maryland's style of team defense relies on the Terrapins' ability to double-team early. When an opponent passes away from the slide, Connor can be heard barking his teammates back into position and switching away from poor matchups.

The same goes for man-down situations and defending against fast breaks. Connor won't try to gamble with a takeaway check or shattering hit, but will stay back to orchestrate the defense and assume the last line of protection.

"I'm small and have tried to beef up throughout the years, which hasn't really been working," said Connor, a junior who was an honorable mention All-American last year. "So I use my head out there a lot. I'm always thinking ahead."

Connor, who appears even more slender than his listed 6-foot-2, 176-pound frame, is one of the few close defensemen who gets "out-beefed" by attackmen. So despite his flamboyant outer shell, this Terrapin adheres to a conservative game plan.

His approach centers on fundamentals, analyzing the angles and always tying up attackmen's hands with poke checks. Keeping his feet squared beneath him, Connor maintains his center of gravity to negate the opposition's chances of dodging past him.

His effectiveness may make him just the fifth Maryland defenseman this decade to be named to one of the first three All-America teams, joining former rugged Terrapins defenders Dan Radebaugh and Brian Burlace.

"Casey plays hard; that's the common thread here. Big or small," coach Dick Edell said.

"Casey's one of those players where you turn to look over your shoulder and he's always there. It's a violent sport and he plays a violent position, but he has always come back the next day, never missing a practice. You really appreciate that."

But even the most appreciated of players can lose his composure. And Connor's instance was amplified by bad timing.

In the fourth quarter of last year's 15-5 NCAA championship-game loss, Connor picked up an official's flag and chucked it at the Princeton band before 17,225 fans and a national television audience. That later resulted in the NCAA suspending Connor from Maryland's first playoff game this season.

"When I worked camps this summer, kids would be like: That was so cool. And I had to say: `No, that wasn't cool,' Connor said. "It was just a lot of frustration that day. I just lost my head."

But Connor has had lots of practice with misconceptions.

Countless times, he's had to explain his tattoos. On his lower left leg, he has two crossed lacrosse sticks with the Maryland-style "M" below them emblazoned with a Nike swoosh.

Then there is the Chinese symbol for "adopted son" on his left shoulder blade, signifying his identity as an adopted child.

Still, nothing beats the reaction from his teammates when they catch a few verses from rap songs by the likes of Wu-Tang Clan or DMX pulsating from his room.

"I heard he was just some crazy kid, like some animal," defenseman Chris Lamy said. "Then when you meet him, he's kind of laid back and not what I expected. He's a smart kid."

"He's not your typical prep school pretty boy, that's for sure," goalkeeper Kevin Healy said.

"He does a lot of things you don't see on TV. He's going to the coaches and telling them: We need to change this or we have to do this better. He fits in pretty well."

The Rivalry

No. 3 Johns Hopkins (6-1) at No. 7 Maryland (7-2)

When: Tonight, 8

Where: Byrd Stadium, College Park

Series: Hopkins leads, 58-35-1

Pub Date: 4/16/99

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