Former California high school football star Brian Banks wore a prison uniform for five-plus years, serving time for a rape he did not commit.
This fall, he’ll be wearing a different uniform – for the Atlanta Falcons.
Ten months after a California judge tossed out his conviction, the 27-year-old, 6’2″, 250-pound linebacker signed a deal to play for the NFL team.
“Aside from getting my life back and my freedom back, this is the biggest accomplishment of my life,” he told reporters during a conference call.
His sweatshirt featured a California license plate reading “XONR8.”
“We are pleased to have Brian join our team,” said Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff this week. “We had a chance to work him out last year.”
“He has worked extremely hard. We are happy that Brian will have a chance to live out his dream, and we look forward to seeing him on the field.”
A year ago, he was out of prison on parole, wearing an ankle monitor as a registered sex offender. The contrast with this week’s events is “surreal,” Banks said.
“Talk about coming from the bottom,” he told reporters after signing his deal.
“I know all too well what that is and what it looks like and what it feels like.”
While serving time in prison for a rape he was accused of committing in 2002, Banks said he was forced to abandon his hopes of playing in the NFL someday.
At age 17, fearing a potentially long sentence, the USC prospect pleaded no contest to assaulting a Long Beach, Calif., high school classmate.
Banks was faced with an impossible decision – fight the charges and risk spending 41 years to life, or take a plea deal and spend a little over five years.
Although it would mean destroying his chance to go to college and pro, Banks chose the lesser of two evils when he pleaded no contest to the charges.”
Despite the guilty plea, Brian Banks maintained his innocence throughout his imprisonment, subsequent probation and registration as a sex offender.
The fallen football star’sfortunes began to change in 2011, when the woman who once accused him of rape sent him a Facebook friend request.
According to the California Innocence Project, the woman later admitted that Banks had not kidnapped or raped her during a consensual encounter.
In court last year, an emotional Banks lowered his head and fought back tears when prosecutors said they were moving to have the conviction dismissed.
“We do not believe that Mr. Banks did the crime he pleaded guilty to,” Deputy District Attorney Brentford Ferreira said. “Justice has been served.”
Since his exoneration, Banks has spent months in intensive training, attending San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks minicamps last year.
“It’s been a long road. It’s been a lot of hard work. It is 10 years missing in my football career,” he said, “but there has been a lot of work put in to making up for it.”
After signing his contract with the Falcons Wednesday, Banks thanked the team’s players and personnel from his Twitter account, @BrianBanksFREE.
Good luck Brian.