Banks leaves them wanting more

Posted Jun 7, 2012

After spending 62 months in prison before being exonerated, Brian Banks wants to resume chasing his dream of playing the NFL. It began Thursday with a workout for the Seahawks.

As tryouts go, it wasn’t just another one, but one of several dozen Pete Carroll and John Schneider have conducted since the coach-general manager tandem came to the Seahawks in January 2010. What set this tryout apart was the player, and his circumstance.

As Brian Banks, a once-promising prep linebacker, went through his paces in the indoor practice facility at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Thursday morning he was chasing a dream that has been on hold the past 10 years because he spent 62 months in prison after being wrongly accused of rape in 2002. Exonerated last month after his accuser admitted she had lied, Banks wants to resume his pursuit of a professional career, and he started with the Seahawks because of his previous association with Carroll – who had recruited Banks while coaching at USC.

“This is by far the second-best day of my life,” Banks said. “May 24th, my day of exoneration, and just today. To be out here on this field, to workout with the Seahawks, to be given an opportunity to have a tryout, I really don’t have words for it. This is a dream come true.

“I know a lot of people work hard to get to this point. I’ve also worked hard myself. I’m just thankful for this opportunity.”

Things went well enough during his workout that Banks has been offered a tryout at next week’s minicamp.

Somebody definitely owes Banks, now 26, something. But he doesn’t look at it that way.

“I feel more appreciative for the opportunity than I feel deserving,” he said.

The whole world wasn’t watching his tryout, because the session was closed. But it was waiting. Afterward, Banks held a 20-minute Q&A session with the media that included camera crews from “60 Minutes,” “Good Morning America,” “The Today Show” and “The CBS Evening News” – as well as the crew compiling his documentary, “The Brian Banks Story.”

Banks did not disappoint the Seahawks, or the assembled cameras and reporters.

“I know that you’ve just met a remarkable young man,” Carroll said as he stepped to the podium.

The Carroll-Banks connection began when Banks was a junior at Long Beach Poly High School. Banks had committed to USC, but that summer was accused of rape. He reluctantly accepted a plea and was sentenced to six years.

“We really lost track of Brian and what happened until the story was brought about here just in recent days,” Carroll said. “When we first heard about the story, I thought it was remarkable circumstances and a guy up against all odds – extraordinary, remarkable circumstances.

“But not until I talked to him on the telephone did I realize what kind of guy this guy is, and that he deserved a chance. Given other circumstances, he would have earned it in front of our eyes. But this is a guy that just deserved it.

“This is a great illustration for us of why people deserve a second chance.”

So here they were again, sharing a practice field – and a love for the game. And it was that 10-year-old Carroll connection that made Seattle his first stop – and workout.

“I was honored to get that phone call from him (about the workout),” Banks said. “I didn’t know when I’d get that call, but for him to be the first one to give the call, it really was a big thing for me to have him reach out to me.

“I know I’ve been out of this game for so long and with him just reaching out, not knowing what I can do physically, and just giving me the opportunity, it just really speaks a lot about coach Carroll.”

Later, Banks added, “I’ve always looked up to coach Carroll. He’s always been an influence to me. Even before I ever had the chance of meeting him and talking to him, just what he’s done for USC and the players who played there, I’ve always looked up to him.

“Just to have him reach back out to me, it’s big.”

To say that Banks’ life has been a whirlwind since he was exonerated on May 24 doesn’t do justice to what he’s been through. He appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” on Wednesday night, then flew to Seattle. He arrived at his hotel at 1 a.m., only leave at 6:45 for the physical that preceded his workout.

Once the workout began, Banks found himself following the instructions of Ken Norton, Jr., the Seahawks’ linebackers coach but also a Pro Bowl linebacker during his career with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.

“Just to be out on this field and shake his hand, and look at him in the eyes, and for him to give me directions, it was surreal,” Banks said through a smile that was bright as the TV lights directed at him. “Surreal, and an honor.”

Banks and Carroll also stayed connected to the reality of the situation despite the overpowering feel-good trappings that come with Banks’ story.

“I definitely have a lot of work to do, but I know I’m ready to take on that responsibility and the task of working hard to get where I need to be,” Banks said. “I feel like I did enough to impress the coaches today to give me a tryout to further see what I can do. And I’m just ready to get back into training to just be that much more prepared for that tryout.”

Offered Carroll: “He looks like a guy who has not been schooled and worked out in the kind of fashion that our guys are at this level. It’s going to take some time and I think our expectations need to be fitted to that. … But to look as well as he did, under those circumstances, was worth noting.”

The one question that had to be asked: Isn’t he bitter? Toward his accuser? About his situation?

“No,” he said. “I’ve been asked that question a few times since this whole ordeal (started). Not at all. Look where I am.”

Banks then laughed before adding, “Look where I am today. I thank God for this. This is a blessing. And the last thing I want to be is bitter. When I first received a six-year sentence, I had those days where I just wanted to lay in my cell and be angry and be bitter. But I realized that all it did for me was keep me in my cell, bitter and angry.

“So I need to move on from that.”

Thursday was another quantum leap in that direction.