On the field, he is a wall.
Man-to-man marking, tackles and great leadership has made him an irreplaceable piece in head coach David Costa’s defensive asset.
John Bannec, senior defender of the Belmont University men’s soccer team.
Now in his final collegiate season, the Indiana-native has already played over 1,000 minutes and was named a Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Week in September, after scoring his first career goal in Belmont’s crucial road win at University of North Carolina Asheville.
Off the field, he is a hardworking student and friend to count on.
“He is super down to earth, personable and a great hang,” said teammate Kyle Barks.
But despite his success on and off the field, his journey to Belmont was not an ordinary one.
“As I was growing up,” Bannec said, “I wanted to play any sport under the sun, whatever it was, put me in it, I want to do it.”
When he was three-years-old, he started kicking a soccer ball around the house and was immediately put into a YMCA recreational soccer league by his parents.
“Indiana kid of course, basketball was, you know, for a long-time number one,” he said.
Exploring the sports world from an early age, he started playing basketball, football, track and field, cross country and hockey.
“I even sprinkled in a little gymnastics for maybe like a week,” he said.
But after experimenting with a variety of sports, Bannec realized soccer was his game, as it went hand in hand with friendship.
“My best friends were in soccer,” he said. “That's something that's been synonymous throughout my entire career of soccer, just always that friendship that culture element, the people element.”
So, when the time came to choose a single sport to focus on, it was an easy decision.
Aside from sports, Bannec mentions a theater and music career in his childhood.
“I've kind of always just been all over the place,” he said. “I've always had my hands and my feet all in different buckets, and I love it.”
In fourth grade, he got the main role in a production of The Aristocats and was a staple for the Bloomington Stage Company, a theatrical company in his hometown.
But he put his career on pause.
“I got to middle school and I thought it was super uncool to be in theater, and so my ego and my self-consciousness took over, and I didn't do theater,” he said.
From there, he played piano for four years and drums for six to eight months, before joining his middle school band.
“I was in the band and seventh grade, I took band class, and I played the alto saxophone, and then I ended up being too busy with sports and I couldn't do band the next year,” he said. “So that was kind of the end of my instrumental career.”
His theatrical career wasn’t over and when some of his high school teammates decided to give it a try, he didn’t think twice.
“I got back into it in all four years of high school,” he said. “I did choir and theater, and I loved it.”
While at Bloomington High School South, he was part of the varsity soccer team since freshman year, and when the opportunity came calling to join the academy for the Indiana Fire, he couldn’t take it.
“I never had this overarching drive to just become the best at soccer, that was never my true goal,” he said. “And I gave that up because I wanted to play with my friends.”
In his time at Bloomington South, Bannec recalls a midnight, summer practice during his sophomore year as one of his most memorable moments.
“It was awesome as high schoolers,” he said. “Our coaches would be there, and we’d do a scrimmage under the lights real late at night.”
What he did not know was that one midnight practice would make a significant impact on the remainder of his soccer career.
“The left back for our varsity team was sick and he wasn't able to make it,” he said.
The assistant coach then suggested that John be moved from a winger position to the one of a more defensive left back.
“I played very well,” he said. “I had a couple of assists in the scrimmage from the left back position, I shut down any winger that was going against me and from that point forward sophomore, junior, senior year I played strictly left back.”
Despite his love for attacking and action as a winger, he enjoyed playing left back as it still allowed him to get up and down the flank.
After high school, Bannec landed at Indiana University Bloomington to play in its competitive soccer program. From there, his position transitioned again to the even more defensive center back position.
Due to the high level of competition, he was unable to play consistently at IU and only played in five games during his three years.
“Indiana made me the caliber player that I am quality wise,” he said. “But I also just never touched the field, that's just the reality of it, you got great players there.”
While he improved as a player, he slowly lost the passion.
It would take a new challenging experience to reignite his love for the game – and Belmont was the perfect place for it.
“Coming to Belmont was the change I needed in my life, absolutely, 100%,” he said.
While interning in Chattanooga during the 2020 summer, Bannec couldn’t celebrate the fourth of July with his coworkers.
“I knew Barks was here in Nashville and of course he's been a great friend of mine, I just gave him a call,” he said.
Bannec reached out to former IU teammate Barks, who had transferred to Belmont after two seasons.
“It was the fourth of July in 2020, and we just got news basically that the season was canceled for the fall, and then there was potentially going to be a season the next spring,” said Barks. “He reached out to me in like July was like, ‘hey, what do you do for the Fourth of July? I'm only two hours away, it's a short drive.’ So, I was like, ‘definitely come hang out, come meet some of the guys here and we can have a good time.’”
While in Nashville for the holiday, Bannec met the team.
“No thought process at all about transferring whatsoever, I was making the trip to Nashville to spend time with a friend of mine on fourth of July and have a blast,” he said. “I got there and almost immediately it felt like a recruitment process, it felt like I was taking a trip and unofficial visit to Belmont.”
There he met team leaders from previous seasons like Niccolò Dagnoni and Nick Kramer, as well as current players JP Armbruster and Liam O’Brien.
“Obviously we were having a lot of fun,” he said. “But there was the sprinkled in, ‘hey man you should come here, hey man I did the whole transfer portal process it went great for me; I know it would go great for you.’”
Barks, on the other hand, did not want to influence Bannec’s decision.
“But it definitely left a footprint in my brain for what the culture was like, it was a great window into a culture when in a time when really you weren’t going to be able to visit anywhere, you know Covid, it was impossible,” he said. “So that alongside just later conversations, knowing the trust aspects with Barks and how he talked about the soccer side, it really did go a long way in convincing me to come here.”
“I think it was a bit eye opening for him that he kind of saw what it could be like if he did come,” said Barks. “He's met some of the people, so he knew, and he trusted me, and I think Costa really did all the work from there.”
Coach Costa, who at the time had been at the helm of the team for a year, was working to build something big to change the narrative of the program.
“I think he went on the transfer portal with his grad years, probably in October, he emailed me, we talked a couple of times and I mean it was it was a pretty quick process,” said Costa. “I realized he was exactly one of the guys for us, you know, our guys have this phrase that they always use when we're recruiting, is he's one of us and John definitely was when we met him.”
The pandemic was a blessing in disguise for Bannec and the team, as the 2020 fall season was postponed until spring 2021.
“If we played that fall, we wouldn't have had John Bannec,” said Costa.
John then transferred to Belmont and his soccer career was brought back to life, reigniting his passion for the game.
“When I came back to Belmont, I mean I'll never forget the first game I played the amount of adrenaline I had and butterflies in my body,” he said. “This is what it feels like, this is what it's supposed to be like, I've been missing this.”
Ever since, Bannec has been a pillar for the Bruins’ defense and locker room.
“He’s going to lead, he’s going to be vocal and he’s going to limit mistakes,” said Barks. “He’s a rock in the back every week.”
In his three seasons at Belmont, Bannec has played over 40 games and has helped the Bruins reach two Southern Conference Championship finals.
“He’s an elite leader,” said Costa. “He's not flashy, just does simple things well, over and over which, you know, I think that's just, that's always a good metaphor for life, too, right?”
Bannec will graduate with a major in psychology in December, but is unsure what the future holds for him.
But for now, with a few last games ahead and a MVC tournament to play, he is looking forward to soaking it all in and enjoying the little things, the last moments.
“Soccer is a sport that I barely watched growing up, but it's created almost every opportunity I've had in life,” he said. “Almost everything has been connected to a sport with a ball, so I'm just trying to soak it in as much as possible and go win a conference championship, let's go soak it in and let's finish out on top.”
This article was written by Federico Pravettoni