“We are pleased to have Brian join our team,” Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement. “We had a chance to work him out last year and have been monitoring his progress since then. He has worked extremely hard for this chance over the last year and he has shown us that he is prepared for this opportunity. We are happy that Brian will have a chance to live out his dream of playing in the NFL, and we look forward to seeing him on the field.”
Banks, 27, spent five years in prison and five years on parole after being wrongly accused and convicted of raping a female classmate at Poly Tech High School in Long Beach, California.
At the time of his arrest and subsequent incarceration, Banks was a blue-chip linebacker recruit who had a verbal commitment to USC. Following his exoneration of those charges, Banks' story reached Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who was USC's head coach when Banks was being recruited. Carroll offered Banks an opportunity to try out for the Seahawks.
"I didn't even know if I was going to have a number, a jersey…I didn't know what to expect when I first got here," Banks said after his workout with the Seahawks. "I got to my locker and saw there was a jersey in it — number 43. And I just wanted to take a picture of it just for myself. It's just amazing to see my name on the back of it. It's an honor to be taken serious and to be given this opportunity."
Banks did not receive a contract offer from the Seahawks, but was put through the paces by linebackers coach Ken Norton, Jr.
"Well, you know, he's a little behind -- he might be a little rusty," Norton, Jr. said after the practice. "But there's the foundation. Does he look like a ballplayer? Yes. Does he move well? Yes. Is there a chance? Absolutely. The idea is, can he line up, and can he chase the ball? It's about making a first impression, and I liked the first impression he left."
Banks continued to work with trainer Travelle Gaines and had workouts with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. The San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins also expressed interest in Banks, but no NFL offers were made last season. Banks ultimately joined the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League, but that league folded after a few weeks of their regular season and the linebacker still has not received a paycheck.
"The most interesting thing about the whole situation was that he believed in himself so much," Gaines told Y! Sports' Doug Farrar of Banks, who has worked out at Gaines' West Hollywood gym since his story went public. "He was so convinced that he had the skills to make it. You're talking about a guy who was driving from San Diego to work out, then from Long Beach to work out. Then, he was living in a crappy one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood just to work out and stay in shape, and work out in that environment with other top athletes."
Last month, Banks was featured on CBS' "60 Minutes" program and said that he was in negotiations with several NFL teams about the upcoming season. While a spot on the 53-man roster of what recently-signed defensive end Osi Umenyiora called "the most-talented team" in the league may appear to be a long shot, the Falcons only have five linebackers under contract for the 2013 season.
"At the time he went to Seattle, he had only been working out for about a month, and this was after not really being able to work out for 10 years," Gaines said of Banks' overall improvement in the last few months. "Now, almost a year later, his reaction time and body composition are much better. He's lost about 20 pounds; down to about 238. He's a lot leaner and a lot faster. He's been on a strict diet and he's upped his cardiovascular workouts.
"I had Brian work out strictly with Bobby Wagner and Mychal Kendricks, because they're two of the faster linebackers here. And there wasn't really a dropoff. Not that he's going to be a Bobby Wagner or a Mychal Kendricks, but when they did a drill and he did a drill, it wasn't like you noticed a difference. Now, how that translates onto the field is to be determined, but as far as his lateral agility and mobility, he was as good as them. Keep in mind, though -- you're talking about [NFL players] who can process a play in the blink of an eye. Can Brian do that? That's to be determined."
Banks' pursuit of a roster or practice squad begins when the Falcons open up their offseason program on April 22.
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