Meet Brian Banks.
Eleven years ago, he was a 16-year-old playing the game he loved, like many of us did back in the glory days– except that Brian was good… really, really good.
A 6’2″, 225-pound beast running a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash, Banks was one of the top-rated high school linebackers in the country. All of the major college football programs recruited him tirelessly hoping he would come to their respective schools. Brian committed to play for USC, a program that would likely serve as a launchpad for his dream of playing in the NFL one day.
There he was, ready to showcase his supreme, God-given talent to the world at the collegiate level; the grass couldn’t get any greener for the high school star.
And then it happened.
No, Brian didn’t make a bonehead move and throw his future down the drain like we’ve become way too accustomed to seeing today. It was taken from him… wrongfully. He was accused of rape by a fellow student.
Brian proclaimed innocence throughout and was never linked to the crime by DNA testing. However, because of the fear of a sterner sentence if found guilty, he pled no contest on the advice of his attorney and was sentenced to five years in prison followed by five years of parole.
The former dream of playing football in the NFL had drastically shifted to simply wanting the freedom that was rightfully his.
During the latter part of his parole, his accuser contacted him via Facebook and wanted to “let bygones be bygones,” as he told Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. Brian arranged a meeting at a private investigator’s office, and Wanetta Gibson was videotaped admitting that Banks had never committed any crime against her. In May 2012, Brian was finally set free– exonerated by the same judge that had sentenced him ten years earlier.
Banks said the years of parole were almost tougher than prison before Gibson came forward.
“I couldn’t live within 2,000 feet of a school or park. It was impossible to find work. I had a GPS strapped to my ankle for five years. I couldn’t leave the state or county under any circumstances.”
But now with his freedom once again a reality, Banks could focus back on his primary dream all along– playing football in the NFL.
Last season, Banks worked out for several NFL teams. While none of them offered him a contract, he remained focused on his ultimate goal and signed with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL to garner some game experience. The UFL season was cut short due to financial reasons, but one team saw enough in Banks to give him a shot.
This past week, as FOX Sports NFL Insider Jay Glazer initially reported with the tweet below, the Atlanta Falcons signed Brian Banks to a contract– making his seemingly impossible dream that much closer to fruition.
Glazer himself has an interesting relationship with Banks. Once Banks was exonerated, his agent Bruce Tollner approached Glazer, who trains athletes in mixed martial arts, about working with his hopeful client. When Glazer began working out with Banks and heard his story, he was moved and even began reaching out to NFL teams lobbying for him to get a chance.
After last season, the Falcons told Glazer they would give Banks a shot and work with him in the offseason if he wasn’t signed by a team yet. After they signed Banks this past week, Falcons coach Mike Smith told Glazer “I hope you never doubted us. We keep our promises.” In a sports world where a contract is hardly as meaningful as a napkin note, it’s refreshing to see a franchise stick to its word and give a deserving kid a chance.
For Banks, making the 53-man roster or the practice squad may still be an uphill battle, but, as he alludes to, the toughest task is well behind him.
“The biggest thing for me was to have my freedom be given back to me. Everything else is just me trying to live a life I once lost.”
With the bulk of his prime taken wrongfully from him, you can’t help but root for the 27-year-old chasing his dreams despite overwhelming odds. Whatever happens with Mr. Banks, you can be certain a little bump in the road won’t slow him down.