ASHBURN, Va. — Brandon Banks is listed on the Washington Redskins' preseason football roster at 5 feet, 7 inches and 155 pounds.
Standing in the team huddle before practice last week at Redskins Park, surrounded by athletes six inches taller and double his weight, the Raleigh native looked more like an autograph-seeking kid than a rookie wide receiver/kick returner on an NFL team.
Yet Banks, a former Garner High standout, just might make the Redskins' 53-man roster for the season-opener against Dallas on Sept. 12. An undrafted free agent out of Kansas State, he was invited to a mini-camp in May and has held on through training camp, playing in three preseason games.
He has done so despite his small stature.
"The majority of my days I wish I was at least 5-10," he said. "God has his reason for everything. So he gave me a little bit of speed to cover that height."
Banks has been clocked in the 4.25 range for the 40-yard dash. It's this ability, along with solid hands, that gives him a serious chance to make the team as a receiver or special teams player.
"You can't coach that kind of speed, the kid can fly," Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith said. "He's got good hands, he's got good vision, he's got great speed."
It's his speed that has grabbed the attention of coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Banks made some jaws drop with his 77-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills at FedEx Field on Aug. 13.
He followed a wall of blockers and hit a lane on the right side, racing upfield untouched for the score.
"The other 10 guys did their job," Banks said. "All I had to do was run and make the kicker miss. My job was easy."
All in the family
After scoring the touchdown, Banks broke into the "John Wall dance" in the end zone. "It was pretty easy," he said. "All you have to do is rotate your wrist."
It was a planned tribute to Wall, the Raleigh native who was drafted No. 1 overall by the Washington Wizards in the 2010 NBA Draft. The two are longtime friends, playing basketball together at Garner Road Family YMCA, and have hung out together while in the Washington area.
Wall, invited by Banks, watched his friend thrill the crowd.
Also in the stadium that night were other Banks supporters, including his father, Daryle McNair, stepmother Monique McNair and sister, Gabby Mayo.
"I finally know how my mom and dad feel when they're about to watch me race," said Mayo, a former Southeast Raleigh track star who is now a senior sprinter at Texas A&M. "Heart beating fast. Nervous. It's more pressure being the spectator than the athlete."
Daryle McNair said he had an "out-of-body" experience when his son dashed into the end zone. He said the entire play felt like he was sky diving.
He has watched it on YouTube at least 50 times.
"I can't believe it," Daryle McNair said. "McNabb is talking about him. Coach Shanahan is talking about him. Wow."
Banks presented his father the ball he scored with after the game.
"I brought the ball to the house," McNair said. "That was a great feeling."
Both father and son felt a sense of accomplishment after that game, understanding the winding road Banks has traveled in pursuit of a professional football career.
Banks enrolled at Bakersfield Community College in Bakersfield, Calif., after graduating from Garner High in 2006. He excelled in junior college, earning All-America honors and setting a school record with 15 touchdowns. He graduated with an associates degree and then enrolled at Kansas State.
There he carved a niche as a special teams player and wide receiver. In 24 games, he caught 123 passes for 1,754 yards and 10 touchdowns. He amassed over 3,000 career all-purpose yards.
He made a name for himself with a breakout junior season, making 67 receptions for 1,049 yards.
As a senior, he earned the Big 12 special teams player of the year award, setting the conference record and tying the NCAA record with two kickoff returns for touchdowns in one game last season. He also earned second-team All-America honors. In the spring, though, he was arrested in Kansas on charges of battery and unlawful possession of a stimulant.
Banks considered quitting football, especially after he attended a mini-camp with Tampa Bay and was not invited to stay. But his dad reminded him that they were not "quitters" and encouraged him to try out with the Redskins.
"It's been a real long journey for me," Banks said. "A lot of setbacks. A lot of things trying to get in my path. I'm still pushing, I'm still walking forward."
With the Redskins, it's been all work. He has concentrated on learning new terminology and showcasing his speed.
The biggest criticism of Banks is, of course, his size. Smith, the special teams coach, said the Redskins are still evaluating Banks and want to see how he reacts to contact.
That's no surprise to Banks, who's heard that he's too small to play football since trying out for Pop Warner teams.
Banks said he remains humble. He still feels like the kid catching balls in the backyard with his father. McNair would kick balls high into the tree limbs, and his son would snag them from the air and run.
The stakes are higher now, but the game is still the same.
"I want to be one of the top athletes in the NFL," Banks said. "I'm starting from the bottom, and hopefully I can get to be at the top."
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