Matt Banbury of Peters Township admits to being a shy guy.
Forcing himself out of his shell, the senior has become the leader of the Seton-La Salle football team, which improved to 7-0 after beating Freeport, 21-10, last week in a key Allegheny Conference clash.
“I’m not naturally a leader,” Banbury admitted, “but I have become one.
“The hardest thing to do is get out of your comfort zone. But if you want to grow, if you want to improve, then you have to thrust yourself into situations that are uncomfortable. Doing things that you don’t enjoy will make you better. Eventually, they become a part of you.”
Football has always been a part of Banbury. His family is into sports. His mom, Linda, is a graduate of McGuffey High School. His father, Matt, excelled as a running back at Mt. Lebanon and the University of New Hampshire. He has proved to be the biggest influence on his son.
“Without him, I’d be a totally different person,” said the 17-year-old Banbury. “He forced me to be a better person. The lessons he learned from sports, he said, change you and make a great person out of you. It trickled down. He’s set such a great example that I want to set one for my brothers and my teammates. I want them to look at me and say that’s what I want to be. That’s what I want to do.”
For some time, Banbury has been doing it all. In addition to playing football, he starts on the basketball team. He also maintains a 4.0 GPA in the classroom.
“Matt is and has been a great representative of his family and the Rebel football program,” said SLS head coach Rob Carter. “He has become a leader and great teammate. He displays toughness and strong character. It has been a pleasure watching him mature into a tremendous student athlete.”
Despite his laid back personality, Banbury has always been a quarterback.
“If I’m being totally honest,” he said, “when I was little, I was pretty soft. Not super aggressive. I didn’t like to hit people, but I loved to play football.”
At St. Louise de Marillac School in Upper St. Clair, they turned those qualities into a championship quarterback. On a team that also included among others, Jake Cortes from Peters Township. Max Maciejewski from Ringgold and Colin McLinden from Upper St. Clair, Banbury quarterbacked the Trojans to undefeated seasons that resulted in Diocese of Pittsburgh titles in sixth and eighth grades.
“We ran the ball a lot,” Banbury said with a laugh. “So I didn’t have to pass too much.”
At Seton-La Salle, the Rebels feature similar balance. Lionel Deanes dominates the ground game, ranking second in the WPIAL among rushers with 1,565 yards, 20 TDs and an 8.2-yard-per-carry average. Banbury ranks among the top passers in the league with nearly 1,000 yards and nine scoring passes. Banbury has already surpassed his 2016 totals and is throwing in the mold of past SLS standouts for a variety of reasons.
To prepare for the 2017 season, Banbury bulked up to 205, putting 20 pounds on his 6-2 frame. He worked with a variety of speed coaches such as Darnell Dinkins and at specialty facilities such as DC Sports Training. Plus, he attended Sunday workouts with Greg Perry, who coaches at rival Keystone Oaks but produced such success stories as Bruce Gradkowski when the former NFL QB played at Seton-La Salle.
Banbury says his preparation, though challenging, has paid off. “It’s been hard but when it’s harder, it just makes your accomplishments all that more meaningful,” he said.
This season, Banbury’s interceptions are down. He has only thrown two. He has sustained few sacks because of an experienced line that includes Nick McNally of Bethel Park at center along with the Peters Township tandem of Brendan Perone at right guard and Josh Blamer at left tackle. Banbury emphasized his line is responsible for his success.
“Obviously, you would like interceptions to be zero but I’m not paying attention to that. Interceptions are going to happen. You’ve got to move on to the next play. You can’t let it ruin a practice, a game or whatever it is. Same with sacks,” Banbury said. “That’s part of the game and there’s no blame. It’s never the linemen’s fault.”
With a non-conference game Friday against Quaker Valley (7-1) and a showdown Oct. 27 with cross-street rival Keystone Oaks (4-1, 5-2) to close out the regular season, the Rebels are primed for the playoffs. That’s the only thing on Banbury’s mind, though he does plan to continue his career in college. Fairmont State is among his top choices.
“This is our life right now and we want to go out champions,” Banbury said of his teammates. “Win the WPIAL and state titles, too. We know the great players and coaches that have come before us and we want to live up to what they did. Keep the tradition.”