By TIM BOOTH, Associated Press
RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Walking into the massive indoor practice facility, looking up at the championship banners hanging from the ceiling and feeling the turf under his feet, Brian Banks allowed himself a moment to reflect on whether the reality matched the dream that helped get him through five years of wrongful incarceration.
"This is by far the second-best day of my life — May 24, my day of exoneration, and today," Banks said Thursday after getting a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks. "Just being out here on the field and work out with the Seahawks and to be given an opportunity to have a tryout, I don't really have words for it. It's a dream come true. I know a lot of people work hard to get to this point. I've worked hard myself and I'm just thankful for this opportunity."
And it may continue beyond just a one-day visit to the rainy Pacific Northwest. Banks, 26, impressed Seattle coach Pete Carroll enough that he received an invitation to participate in a formal tryout next week during Seattle's mandatory offseason minicamp.
All Banks needs to do is accept and he can turn another page on his remarkable feel-good story.
"This is a great illustration for us why people deserve a second chance," Carroll said. "Because of what he has overcome and because of what lies ahead for him in his life. This is just one step but it's a step he's been dreaming about for a long time. And it's just such a great illustration about not giving up and competing for what you want and not let your circumstances or surroundings dictate what is going to happen in your life."
When he was 17 and a star high school linebacker in California, a teenage girl Banks had known since childhood claimed he had raped her. He was arrested and, on advice of counsel, pleaded no contest to rape and an enhancement of kidnapping 10 years ago in order to avoid a possible life sentence if tried by a jury.
Banks served five years and two months in prison, but in a strange turn of events, the woman later recanted her claim and offered to help Banks clear his name after he was out of prison. Banks was on probation and wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet at the hearing late last month where he was completely exonerated.
Gone were the restrictions and the stigma, replaced by a clear record.
"He is a living testament to if you keep hanging and you're tough and you don't give up in what you believe in and your dreams, that you can make those come to life," Carroll said.
The little things most of society takes for granted, Banks has come to appreciate in his short period since his case was resolved. When he walked into the airport on Wednesday night to make the late flight to Seattle and endured the hassle of airport security, Banks didn't blink at emptying his pockets or removing his shoes.
"I know a lot of people complain about that, but I was thrilled about it," he said.
It was just the second time he'd ever been on a commercial airplane and his first flight in more than 15 years. Oh, and it came after an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
In just 14 days, Banks has become a spokesman and a celebrity.
"I served five years in prison. The last two weeks feels like a breeze," Banks said.
From a football perspective, there is still plenty left for Banks to prove. He first must decide whether to accept the Seahawks' minicamp offer. Banks' agent, Bruce Tollner, said Thursday afternoon that he had yet to speak with Banks about the offer, but that Banks tentatively has visits scheduled with five other teams.
"An invitation back to Seattle is a very positive thing that he'll want to consider, we just need to check his schedule," Tollner said.
While impressed with his raw athleticism, Carroll freely acknowledged that Banks is not refined to the level of an NFL linebacker and whatever expectations are placed on Banks need to reflect his lack of football schooling during the last 10 years.
Banks said Thursday that after his release from prison, he played one season of football at Long Beach City College in 2007, but changes in his probation that went into effect in 2008 kept him from continuing to play junior college football.
The fact Seattle was first up in Banks' NFL tour was not a surprise. Carroll and Banks first developed a relationship when Banks was a top high school prospect and Carroll was in the beginning stages of turning USC into a college powerhouse. Banks was offered a scholarship and made a verbal commitment to play football at USC during his junior year at Long Beach Poly.
More than a decade later, the pair was reunited on a rainy Thursday morning. Carroll watched Seattle linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. put Banks through a basic workout. He measured at 6-foot-2, 239 pounds. He ran a 40-yard dash, but didn't know his time. He did bag drills. He showed off the athleticism that first attracted Carroll to Banks when he was a prep star.
And he lived out a dream that seemed so unlikely while he was incarcerated. Banks, wearing a sweat shirt with "XONR8" on the front, said he was extremely appreciative that the Seahawks and Carroll are giving him a chance.
"I told the coaches today coming out here, and I absolutely mean it, I feel more appreciative for the opportunity than I feel deserving," Banks said. "I'm honored to have all of these people and all of these coaches of these different teams give me this opportunity."
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