Most of the 250-plus participants at Saturday’s Regional Combine at Virginia Mason Athletic Center were chasing the dream of playing in the National Football League.
For Alex Bannister, he’s trying to recapture it.
Yes, that’s the same Alex Bannister who was a Pro Bowl special teams player for the Seahawks during his five-season stint with the Seahawks from 2001-05. The same Alex Bannister who was selected in the fifth round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Seahawks, and played his last season in the league in 2006 with the Baltimore Ravens. The same Alex Bannister whose exposure to the NFL the past seven seasons has been limited to watching game on TV and wondering why not me.
But he’s also obviously not the same Alex Bannister, because he’ll turn 35 next month and at 232 pounds he’s added 20 pounds of muscle since his time as a Seahawk.
“I’m in good shape. Can still run. Can still play. And I like to prove to people that think I can’t play because I’m older. I always say, ‘You never forget how to use your blessings and the gifts that God has given you.’ You never forget how to use those. So I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t think I could do it.”
Proving naysayers wrong provided Bannister with the impetus to make it from the mean streets of Cincinnati, to Eastern Kentucky, to the Seahawks, to the Pro Bowl and even to the Super Bowl (after the 2005 season).
“So this is right up my alley,” he said with a smile. “I’m not going to take no for an answer.”
During his stay with the Seahawks, Bannister was a little-used wide receiver who excelled on special teams. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2003, when he led the Seahawks in coverage tackles with 18 and also downed five punts inside the 10-yard line.
For every 70 or so 20-something prospects on hand Saturday, there was a Bannister; or a Jonathan Wilfong, a 38-year-old former linebacker from Shasta Junior College; or a Mike Long, a 38-year-old former quarterback from the University of Indianapolis.
“I still feel young mentality,” Bannister said. “I don’t feel like I’m out here creaking and hobbling around. I feel young. I feel like I can do it.”
Bannister and his fellow participants came from major universities, small colleges, community colleges or no colleges.
Kyle Bolton, a wide receiver from Baker University, ran the fastest 40 (4.42 seconds). Ottawa (Kansas) University running back Tommy Lewis, Colorado State-Pueblo wide receiver Augustine Agyei (4.45) and Murray State wide receiver Jordan Morrow and Eastern Washington University running back Christopher Scott (4.49) were not far behind. The day’s best vertical leap belonged to Texas-El Paso safety Martel Strange (40 inches), with Southern University safety Omar Cook (39½), Idaho wide receiver Najee Lovett (39), Idaho State cornerback Jon Davidson (38), Southern Oregon wide receiver Cole McKenzie (37½) and University of Manitoba running back James Nakonechny (37½) also getting the jump on the competition.
All are after what Bannister has had, and would like to have again – a chance to play in the NFL.
Bannister is hoping the next chapter in his comeback story takes him to the Super Combine in Detroit next month. And what a story it would be if he can pull it off.
“I think it would be almost history in sports – retire for eight years, come back better, stronger and better than you were when you retired,” Bannister said. “That’s a story and it’s inspiration for people that are in their 30s and mid-30s to stay in shape and never give up your dream.
“If you think you can do it, keep pursing it until they force you out.”