Banks enjoys ‘surreal’ Seahawks tryout

RENTON — Brian Banks isn’t sure how long this whirlwind ride will last, and he is just fine with that.

Banks, the former high-school football star who was wrongly accused of rape a decade ago, then recently exonerated after more than five years in prison and five more on parole, was back with the Seahawks to take part in this week’s minicamp. The 26-year old first worked out for the Seahawks last week, and showed enough to be invited back for a tryout. Banks also had workouts with Kansas City and San Diego, and has received interest from other teams.

While he would love for his story to end with a spot on an NFL roster, he won’t let a football career, or the lack of one, define him.

“What I take from it all, the advice that I appreciate the most, is just enjoy the moment,” Banks said. “If it’s for one day, if it’s for a whole season, if it’s for however long, just enjoy the moment. I’ve already won; I have my freedom. That’s what’s most important to me. Making this team would just be additional blessings to this freedom.”

Back when he was one of the top high school recruits in the nation at Long Beach Polly High School, Banks wore No. 10, but on Wednesday he was wearing No. 43 and was thrilled just to put on any jersey.

“I just wanted to take a picture just for myself,” he said. “It was just amazing to see my name on the back of it.”

Banks spent his time playing middle linebacker Wednesday, and while he was trying to knock off a considerable amount of rust — one season at Long Beach City College in 2007 was his only football experience in the last decade — he made an impression on Seattle’s coaches.

“He’s a little behind, he might be a little rusty, but does he look like a ballplayer? Yes. Does he move well? Yes. Is there a chance? Absolutely,” said linebacker coach Ken Norton Jr. “Obviously there’s a little rust out there, but the idea is, can he line up, can he chase the ball? It’s about making a first impression, and I like the first impression he left.”

Norton liked what he saw, but also was honest about the uphill battle Banks is facing to make an NFL roster after 10 years away from the game, aside from that one season of junior college ball.

“This is the NFL, the best of the best, so it’s going to be really tough for him,” Norton said. “Just the fact that he came out, gave it a shot and didn’t shy away from it, you’ve got to give him a plus for that. But this is the best of the best, the highest-level of athlete and he’s been out of it for 10 years, so it’s going to be really, really tough.”

And while Norton knows Banks is at a sizeable disadvantage compared to the other linebackers on the field, he won’t give Banks any special treatment.

“I don’t adjust,” Norton said. “I have 13 kids in my group and they’ve been here every single day, and he has to be evaluated just like they are.”

Banks has looked forward to this chance for a long time, but despite his high hopes, the day still exceeded his expectations.

“It was more overwhelming than I thought,” he said. “I had high hopes and dreams of being out here today, then just to be out here, to have this helmet on, to have my name on the back of this jersey, to be a part of this team for a day is more than I could ever imagine.”

Banks’ story has taken off in since his name was cleared last month. His conviction was overturned with the help of the California Innocence Project after his accuser admitted she had fabricated the accusations. Since then he has focused on pursuing an NFL dream deferred, and in addition to hearing from several teams, he has done countless interviews, including an appearance last week on “The Late Show with Jay Leno.” On Wednesday, the larger-than-usual media contingent at Seahawks minicamp included a crew from the CBS Show “60 Minutes.”

But more than the spotlight, Banks was focused on a simple goal Wednesday — enjoying an afternoon with an NFL team.

“It’s surreal,” he said. “It’s surreal to be out here.”

Herald Writer John Boyle:

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