If Brian Banks never plays a down in the NFL, it doesn’t really matter because he’s already won the biggest game of his life.
Last May, Banks was exonerated, after spending five years and two months in prison and five years on probation as a registered sex offender, for a crime he did not commit.
“I’ve already won,” Banks said. “The biggest thing was for me to have my freedom given back to me.”
A former four-star high school recruit who signed with the Falcons on Wednesday, Banks will attempt to make the improbable climb to the NFL after not playing organized football for more than 10 years.
He gave a verbal commitment to then-USC coach Pete Carroll in 2002, not long before he was accused of rape. He was with Seattle for a minicamp last season, but Carroll, currently the Seahawks’ head coach, said he thought from watching the workouts that Banks couldn’t make up the ground.
Banks participated in an undisclosed workout with the Falcons two weeks before the start of the 2012 season.
“I showed up and I tried out,” Banks said.
Timing was an issue with the Falcons, and they advised Banks to continue working to improve his speed and techniques. They continued to monitor his progress.
Banks went on to play two games for the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League and had one tackle. The Falcons recently held another workout for Banks, and they were pleased with his progress.
By signing now, Banks can participate when the Falcons start their offseason training program April 22. He’ll also have an opportunity to take part in the minicamps and get re-acclimated with football before training camp starts in July.
“He has worked extremely hard for this chance over the last year, and he has shown us that he is prepared for this opportunity,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said.
Banks, 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, also received tryouts with Kansas City, San Diego and San Francisco last season.
“I just want to thank God for the opportunity,” Banks said. “I want to thank God for life.”
Banks was charged with rape and kidnapping. The woman later recanted her claim and offered to help Banks clear his name. The California Innocence Project of the California Western School of Law helped with Banks’ case.
“I’ve had the opportunity to see both sides of the human spirit,” Banks said. “Those who put you down and degrade you, judge you and wrongfully accuse you and brand you something that you’re not. I’ve met those people. I’ve met people that only have a one-track mind of violence, destruction and negativity.
“But, I’ve also met people who uplift you and want to support you, want to see you be a better person and be successful in life. So, my journey has been crazy.”
Banks seems to sense that he’ll have an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster.
“It’s been a long road and a lot of hard work,” Banks said. “There are 10 years missing in my football career, so there has been a lot of work put into making up for it.”
The move to sign Banks was unconventional for the Falcons, who have red-flagged players with checkered pasts in the wake of the Michael Vick federal dogfighting case.
“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,” Dimitroff said.