SAN DIEGO — Brian Banks, whose rape conviction in Long Beach was thrown out with the help of law students and professors at the California Western School of Law in San Diego, signed a contract with the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League, the team announced Wednesday.
“To lose it all and then to wake up one day and have it come back, it’s a very humbling, spiritual feeling,” Banks said in a conference call with Atlanta media. “It’s something that you just don’t want to take for granted, and that’s why I work so hard now for the dreams I want to succeed in.”
Banks was a star middle linebacker at Long Beach Polytechnic High School with a scholarship offer from USC when a female student accused him of rape. Facing up to 41 years in prison, he accepted a plea bargain and served a five- year term.
He later said he was given 10 minutes to make a decision and didn’t have a chance to seek advice from his parents. Once out of prison, he wore an ankle bracelet and had to register as a sex offender.
The woman later tried to “friend” him on Facebook and she recanted the sexual assault allegation.
Members of the California Innocence Project at Cal Western took his case back to court and got him exonerated last year. He said he wanted to pursue his dream of a professional football career and tried out for several teams, including the Chargers.
“We had a chance to work him out last year and have been monitoring his progress since then,” said Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff. “He has worked extremely hard for this chance over the last year and he has shown us that he is prepared for this opportunity. We are happy that Brian will have a chance to live out his dream of playing in the NFL and we look forward to seeing him on the field.”
Banks appeared in two games last year for the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League and made one tackle.
Cal Western professor Justin Brooks, the director of the California Innocence Project, said Banks was an inspiration to him.
“As a client and a friend, I’ve had the privilege of observing Brian’s work ethic and passion for the game of football first-hand,” Brooks said. “I wish him the best of luck with the Atlanta Falcons — they have signed a great football player and an even greater man.”