RENTON, Wash. -- The story of Brian Banks has been told often enough in the past few weeks to be common knowledge, but once you get past the fact that a man lost 10 years of his life to a trumped-up rape charge, the more amazing and meaningful part of the tale is the extent to which Banks, the former Long Beach Poly High star linebacker, is now getting a legitimate shot at the NFL.
Having visited the Seattle Seahawks, San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs for private workouts, the 26-year-old Banks headed back to Seattle on Wednesday for the next step in what will be a long, improbable journey -- he participated in the Seahawks' three-day mandatory minicamp on the invitation of head coach Pete Carroll, who got a verbal commitment from Banks as USC's head coach a decade ago.
After lining up at middle linebacker with the reserve units in team drills during a two-hour workout, Banks spoke to the media and tried to express just how amazed he was to be this close to his dream -- less than a month after he was finally exonerated.
"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. "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."
To bring the football realities into play is to veer away from the feel-good nature of Banks' story, which is undeniable and palatable in his presence. But once the amazement falls away, that is exactly what the Seahawks, and other NFL teams with interest, must do. When Banks is done here, he'll visit the Minnesota Vikings, and that probably won't be his last stop -- unless the Seahawks are impressed enough with what they see, or what they think might happen, to bring him on board.
The most impressive thing about Banks from a purely competitive perspective was that after so long away from the game, he looked like an undrafted free agent who would probably come up short on first cuts. That is to say, he didn't appear to be some schlub who hadn't played football in years. Banks ran to the ball with average speed in non-contact drills, he showed decent speed and flexibility in his drops, and he certainly appeared to be a step late to the action at times ... but given the circumstances, it was pretty darned impressive.
"Well, you know, he's a little behind -- he might be a little rusty," Seahawks linebackers coach Ken 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."
Norton, who played in the league for 13 years and made three Pro Bowls, is one of the more demonstrative position coaches in the NFL. If you're not where you're supposed to be, you're going to hear about it right away at faceblast levels. Banks got the Norton glare, just like everybody else.
That's exactly what he wanted.
"I was waiting for that," Banks said. "I don't want nobody to take it easy on me out here. I know I have a lot of work to do and if that's what's required, then definitely give it to me. I'm ready for it. I've heard of his coaching style. It wasn't until that day of the tryout that I was on the way up here with one of the scouting coaches and he was like, 'I want to let you know, coach Norton — he's no joke.' But you know what? I like that intensity. I like that style of coaching. If it's not right, tell me it's not right. And if it needs fixing, tell me it needs fixing and let's fix it together. We'll get it done. I appreciate it."
Banks has been working out with different trainers in Southern California, and he's taken off 30 pounds in the last year, down from 275. The football stuff will come in time, to a certain degree -- it's just a matter of how much a guy with two missing high school years and no major college experience can assimilate. Certainly, to grasp the complexity of an NFL defense, and to read multiple NFL offenses, Banks will have to learn many things he has never known. Aside from a year at Long Beach City College in 2007, Banks hasn't played competitive football in a full decade. And as he said on Wednesday, this is the first time he's strapped on a helmet since that one season.
"For me personally, I feel like football is like riding a bike," he said of the process. "Once you play it, and you have somewhat of an understanding, you kind of hold on to that regardless of the time that you take off. It's just about getting your body back adjusted to it. I feel like that year that I spent at Long Beach City College playing was just a good feel for having pads back on, having contact and just getting that feel of the game."
Right now, it's all fresh and new. The expectations have to be tempered, but it was a wonderful first step for Banks. Once his physical abilities were visible in comparison to players that will make an NFL roster, it was easier to see that this is more than a publicity play. There are NFL teams legitimately interested to see if Brian Banks can be brought along as a developmental prospect.
"Intangibles" are thrown around recklessly in sports analysis, but if ever there was a case to be made for what a player can bring to a team that has little to do with his on-field exploits, this is it.
"I feel like what I've been through these past 10 years shows that I have a determination factor of not giving up, of keeping hope in whatever it is that you want to accomplish in life that you can," he said, when asked what he can offer to teammates in a mental and emotional sense. "And I'm more than willing to be that person on any team that if someone is feeling down one day, or someone is feeling like giving up, or someone is feeling like they can't get to that next step in their life, I'm definitely there to talk to them and be that person of encouragement. But at the same time, I feel like my situation is no different from anybody else's experiences. I always say, 'It's not what you go through, but how that experience affects you.'"
Banks' experience has affected others. Several of his Seahawks teammates for the week have expressed their admiration for his drive and spirit, as has Carroll and general manager John Schneider. Banks has received support from outside the football world, as well -- as his story exploded on a national level, the names got bigger and bigger.
"I haven't spoken to him yet, but Reverend Jesse Jackson has reached out," he said. "I do plan to reach back out to him. Gayle King has reached out. Holly Robinson Peete and her husband [former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete]. It's just been a lot of support from some amazing people that I look up to and when I do have time, when things settle down I do plan to reach back out to them."
For now, there's the NFL whirlwind. And perhaps when things settle down, a chance -- however nascent -- to live the dream he's always had.