Second chance for Seahawks’ hopeful

RENTON — Brian Banks, surrounded by TV cameras and reporters, looked around the Seahawks’ indoor practice facility and smiled.

“This is by far the second-best day of my life,” Banks said after completing a workout with the Seahawks that he hopes will be the first step toward an improbable NFL career.

It was just Banks’ second-best day, of course, because the best day occurred two weeks earlier when he was exonerated of the rape conviction that ended his football dreams, as well as life as he knew it, 10 years earlier.

“May 24, my day of exoneration, and just today to be out on this field to workout with the Seahawks, to be given an opportunity to have a try out, I really don’t have words for it,” he said. “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 the opportunity. I really am.”

And Banks’ feel-good story isn’t over yet. While the 26-year-old knows better than anyone the uphill battle he is fighting to make an NFL roster for the first time, Banks did do enough at his workout for the Seahawks to ask him to come back for a tryout at next week’s three-day minicamp.

“Now, I understand that we don’t know how that’s going to work out yet,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, “but I was really proud to be able to say that to him and the light in his eye, the emotion that was running through him throughout the day and at that moment was amazing.”

“This is a great illustration for us of why people deserve a second chance. And because of what he’s overcome and because of what lies ahead for him in his life, this is just one step, but it is a step that he’s been dreaming about for a long time. It’s just such a great illustration about not giving up and about competing for what you want and not letting the circumstances or your surroundings dictate what’s going to happen in your life. You just keep hanging in there and hanging tough. This kid has done that.”

The circumstances referred to by Carroll have been told by Banks numerous times in the past two weeks, including Wednesday night on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

As a junior linebacker at Long Beach Poly High School, Banks was one of the top prospects in the country and Carroll’s USC Trojans were one of several schools recruiting him. Banks made a verbal commitment to play for USC, but he never got that chance.

During the spring of his junior year, Banks was accused of rape by a schoolmate. Banks maintained his innocence, but his attorney convinced him to enter a “no contest” plea in exchange for a reduced sentence, fearing the long sentence he could receive if convicted in a trial.

Banks spent five years in prison, then five more on parole as a registered sex offender who had to wear a GPS monitor on his ankle. Banks was recently contacted out of the blue on Facebook by his accuser, and after she admitted that the story had been fabricated, Banks, with the help of the California Innocence Project, was able to get his conviction overturned last month.

Finally a free man, Banks decided, despite the odds, to pursue an NFL career. When Banks’ story started spreading, several NFL teams made contact, and fittingly, the first call came from Carroll a decade after Banks had committed to play for him at USC.

“I was honored to get that phone call from him,” Banks said. “I didn’t know when I would get that call. But for him to be the first one to give me the call, it really was a big thing 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.”

Banks knows he is a long shot to make an NFL roster. Other than one season at Long Beach City College in 2007 after he was released from prison, Banks has not played organized football since high school. But no matter how his incredible story plays out, Banks already has won his biggest battle.

“The biggest thing for me was securing my freedom,” Banks said, wearing a sweatshirt that read XNOR8 on the front. “I did that. Everything else is a blessing.”

And when you’ve had your freedom stolen from you for as long as Banks had, every new experience is one to cherish. Even something as monotonous as travel was exhilarating for Banks.

“Aside from being on this field today and being with these coaches at this amazing facility, (the flight to Seattle) probably was one of the number one highlights of my life,” he said.

“Just to feel that plane take off, feel it land, be in the air. I haven’t flown in a plane in over 15 years and before that I’ve only flown one time. So even walking through the whole checking area, taking your shoes off — a lot of people complain about that — I was thrilled about it.”

Banks will fly back to Los Angeles and meet with his agent, Bruce Tollner, to figure out his next move. Five more teams are interested in working out Banks, Tollner said, so it’s not a given that Banks will be back in Seattle for next week’s minicamp. If he does come back — Carroll joked that he’ll have to recruit Banks all over again — Banks will be one step closer to a dream that seemed impossible just a few short weeks ago.

When asked if Banks could make Seattle’s 90-man roster, Carroll answered, “It’s possible. Yeah, it’s very possible.” But even if Banks doesn’t end up wearing an NFL uniform this fall, his story is far from over. His life, at the age of 26, is just beginning.

“Going to prison, being on parole, and even having this tryout today, it doesn’t define me,” he said. “This doesn’t define me.

“There’s so much more to me. There will be so much more to me. It’s just experiences that I have gone through, and so I just look forward to continuing to better myself to better my situation in life and just to keep progressing.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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