Brian Banks is among many Atlanta Falcons trying to earn their first NFL roster spot, and for many, the first time in front of a large crowd as a professional at City Park Stadium during the Friday Night Lights scrimmage.
However, there’s no question that Banks’ story is the most unique and heartwarming. After being falsely accused of rape in high school and serving a 10-year sentence, the first five years of it in jail, he’s now a free man and making a push to latch on with the Falcons at linebacker.
Even though Atlanta has good depth at the position, Banks feels like the first team outing in front of fans went as well as expected.
And after missing out on a college playing career, after being a highly-recruited high school prospect in 2002, he still feels like he can make up for so much lost time.
“I just try to work, work, work,” said Banks, while taking a break from signing autographs after the game in Gainesville. “I just have a great work ethic. I’m relentless in wanting to learn more, asking questions in the film room and studying.”
Friday’s Gainesville scrimmage was also the first outing for Atlanta’s 2013 draft picks, including first-round draft pick Desmond Trufant and second-round pick, Robert Alford, both cornerbacks. Trufant will likely start the season, while Alford will likely be his backup across from 10-year veteran Asante Samuel.
Both said it was nice to finally play in front of a boisterous crowd, just one week away from the preseason opener Thursday against the Cincinnati Bengals at the Georgia Dome.
“It’s always great to have the fans cheering and to have a chance to get out there and make plays,” said Trufant, a rookie out of Washington.
“This is a dream come true,” said Alford, who came from Southeast Louisiana. “When I started playing football at age 12, this was a dream of mine to play in an NFL game.
“Tonight got me one step closer to that before our preseason gets started next week.”
Banks was easily one of the most appreciative of his experience, not knowing that he’d every be cleared of charges after going to jail in 2002, but later freed after his accuser admitted she lied about the charges. The Falcons’ linebacker was aided in having his conviction overturned by the California Innocence Project.
He signed autographs for every Falcons fan possible that lined the gate after the scrimmage.
“I really appreciate all the love and support I’ve received and my family has received here, from the fans in Atlanta and across the world,” Banks said. “I’m just trying to show people that anything’s possible.
“I just stay positive, no matter what. And even when you’re going through bad stuff, that’s life. Everything’s not going to be perfect and you will get down, but it’s how you respond that determines the outcome.”
Even though Banks is still raw, he feels like he stayed on top of calling the plays when he was on the field.
“To be in the midst of calling plays and on the clock really feels like a new sense of freedom,” said the 28-year-old Banks. “The coaches gave me the calls on the fly and I feel like I gave the calls right, made the checks right at the line.”
The quarterback position had two rookies getting first practice game experience with seventh-round pick Sean Renfree, out of Duke, and undrafted free agent Seth Doege from Texas Tech both trying to work their way onto the roster behind starter Matt Ryan and probable backup Dominique Davis.
Rookie tight end Andrew Szczerba from Penn State had a touchdown grab in the scrimmage portion, while undrafted rookie running back Donald Russell, out of Georgia State, had two long catches out of the backfield.