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January 16, 2011

Gwynn Park's Banks carrying on the family legacy

Like most elite receivers and defensive backs, Gwynn Park's Brandon Banks is a bit of a showman with a flare for the dramatic. So it was no surprise he had already left a mark in his first home game last year against Chopticon. The sensational junior had scored the Yellow Jackets' only touchdown on a 3-yard reception, and now he was going for the daily double: He needed an interception return.


Late in the second quarter, with Gwynn Park trailing, 21-7, Chopticon quarterback Cody Douglass rolled right and looked for his No. 1 receiver, Justin Gray, a dangerous downfield threat. Douglass unloaded a deep ball in Gray's direction, but Banks ran with him stride-for-stride.

As the ball descended, Banks timed his leap, jumped over Gray and snagged the interception. Remarkably, Banks kept his balance and shoved the receiver aside before unleashing his track-star 4.4 40-yard dash speed. He raced 65 yards in the opposite direction for a jaw-dropping touchdown.

In the stands, Banks' brothers, both former Gwynn Park stars, erupted like kids watching their first playground slam dunk. On the sidelines, his father, the Gwynn Park offensive coordinator, couldn't help but smile.

At that moment, they knew the Banks legacy was secure.

"My brothers paved the way for me here, and now it's my turn," said the 5-foot-11, 150-pound Banks. "I have that name on my back, and if I don't make it people are going to say, 'What happened to you?' But that's what football is all about - pressure. I've been prepared for this."

Indeed he has. Banks has been raised by a family whose life revolves around football the way Archie's, Peyton's and Eli's does. And like the Manning clan, whose name is legendary in their hometown of New Orleans, the Banks surname is a fixture in Brandywine.

Maurice Banks, Jr., has been an offensive coordinator at Gwynn Park for the last decade, compiling an offensive attack that has ranked among the best in Prince George's County. He's reared three sons who learned the game at an early age and thrived on the field.

Banks' eldest son, Maurice Banks III, starred at Gwynn Park in the early part of the decade as a quarterback and defensive back. He led the Yellow Jackets to the class 2A state championship game in 2000 before embarking on an impressive career at Georgetown and a three-year professional stint in NFL Europe and the Arena League. He is currently an assistant coach at Georgetown.

Andrew Banks followed Maurice. An all-state receiver with blazing speed, he helped the Jackets to the 2005 state title. He earned a Division-I scholarship to Middle Tennessee and recently completed his junior year.

Now, it's Brandon's turn. On varsity since his freshman year, Banks busted out as a junior. He hauled in 33 passes for 438 yards and eight touchdowns at receiver to go along with seven interceptions at cornerback.

The trio's production hasn't quite reached Haden levels - Joe Haden's three sons starred at Friendly High and have played at the likes of Florida, Boston College and for the NFL's Cleveland Browns -- but it's still pretty darn impressive.

"I don't know if words do justice to how proud I am of my sons and what they've accomplished," said Banks, Jr., who played quarterback at Coolidge High and recently became a member of the Virginia State hall of fame. "I've watched them grow up, mature and their football IQs just escalate. But I'm more proud of the fact that they are each other's best friends and biggest fans. I'm proud of what kind of people they've become."


Maurice Jr.'s best qualities have been passed down like a family heirloom. The lessons he instilled - humility, hard work, perseverance to name a few -- were embodied by Maurice III, embraced by Andrew and adopted by Brandon. Combine those virtues with the evident athletic genes they've inherited, and it's little surprise each boy has carved a deep niche in the game.

But Brandon has had the most to gain. He's taken something from his brothers and his father, which is why he might just be the best of the bunch.

"Brandon has been around Gwynn Park football since he was born, watching his brothers and his father," said Gwynn Park coach Danny Hayes. "He knows what it takes to be great. He wants to be even better than they are. He already is."

That's a bold statement, but it's not unfounded. Brandon has already earned scholarship offers from Towson and Maryland, with more to come. He's destined to carry the Banks name straight out of Brandywine and all the way to the top levels of college football.

"They always say the youngest one is the best one," admits Andrew Banks. "Right now, he's just as fast and has just as good technique as our DBs down here at Middle Tennessee. And the best corners I've seen in college were the guys at Clemson last year. I don't see why he couldn't be at that level or even above it. He's a tremendous athlete."

Andrew is effusive in his praise, but he takes personal pride in what his brother is capable of. After all, without the help of the entire Banks family, Brandon might not be half the player he is today.

The Banks' are truly a football fraternity, a close-knit kin that finds love through the intricacies and challenges of the game.

"We love the game and we're like friends on the field," said Banks Jr. "We enjoy competing with one another. We've helped shape each other through football."

Although his playing days are probably over, Maurice III is still in top shape and may be the most physically gifted of the three brothers. Andrew, the only true receiver in the group, is the most athletically refined. Brandon, the fastest, is a ball of potential who needs just a little more seasoning and strength training to reach his brothers' level.

All three are afforded a rare opportunity in the Banks version of boot camp. Every weekend they migrate back to Brandywine, their talents in toe. For hours, they lock horns in one-on-one drills, challenging each other, pushing each other, teaching each other. But since all three are skill players, someone needs to throw them the ball. That duty goes to the Virginia State hall of fame quarterback, Maurice Jr.

"All four our us are out there on the field helping each other out," said Maurice III. "You know, we never got to play together on the same team, so that's the closest we get to that feeling of togetherness. And it gives me the chance to pass down what I've learned to my brothers."


The lessons don't end when they strip off their sweat-drenched T-shirts and mud-encrusted cleats. Back at the house, the Banks' can further indulge their football obsession. Their basement doubles as a weight room, complete with bench press, squat machines and treadmills. They even have a special video room where the four can watch film with a Lombardi-like passion.

"Our home is like a football training facility," Andrew said. ""It's all about the total learning experience."

Even the family room is an ode to football. When the quartet isn't training, they're taking in college or NFL games on TV. But instead of kicking back with the chips and dip, they're more apt to diagram plays like four coaches breaking down film.

Have an inspiration while watching Boise State run one of their crazy plays? Well, Maurice, Jr., has you covered. He's hung white eraser boards all around the house so he can draw up new plays on the go. Afterwards, one of his three sons will dissect it, scheme against it and map out a counter play.

"My family knows so much about the game, they can teach stuff that most high school coaches don't even understand," Brandon said. "They show me things technique-wise - how to get in-between a Cover-2, how to position yourself against a certain defense - that no one can know unless you've really studied the game."

Brandon needs all the instruction he can get to keep up with his brothers. In those one-on-one drills, the two older Banks' take no mercy on the youngest, even though Brandon is still raw and his body less developed. When Brandon was younger, Andrew used to abuse him with his routes and ankle-breaking moves.

"It used to be that he couldn't compete and he'd get frustrated," Andrew said. "But with us, you learn and you get better. You're pushed to find a way. Brandon has gotten to the point where I can go against him in one-on-ones and I can actually get work done as a receiver."

The four train until it's too dark to see, honing their footwork, hand placement and reads. Sometimes they'll spend hours on one particular play until it's perfect.

Last year, for example, Brandon had trouble defending the out-route. He was always a split-second late getting to the ball. Naturally, the whole family spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning running nothing but out-routes until Brandon could sense it, read it and react to it like it was second nature.

Later that summer, when Brandon played in a 7-on-7 summer scrimmage against a top-notch receiver, he picked off the first out-route thrown in his direction.

"One of Brandon's best assets is he finds what he's not good at and he works on it until he has it down," Maurice III said. "He'll get me up before 7 a.m. to go over things he needs to work on."

Brandon trains so fanatically even Hayes, a football lifer who isn't easily impressed, compliments him. More than anything else, he lauds Banks for his attentiveness during practice. Brandon asks so many pertinent questions he makes Socrates look bad.

"He's a perfectionist," Hayes said. "Being at Gwynn Park and with the family he's from, that's been ingrained in him. He knows this is not some Burger King joint here. You're here to lead, to learn, to work. He doesn't have a choice."

During spring break, when most of his teammates are relaxing, Banks heads down to Middle Tennessee to be with Andrew for a week. But he's not there to soak in the college party scene. Rather, he follows his brother to defensive back meetings, practices and study sessions.


"He knows he has the benefit of his brothers' experiences," Maurice, Jr., said. "He just drains them for knowledge."

Thanks to his rigorous practice schedule at Middle Tennessee, Andrew wasn't able to attend many of Brandon's games this year. But Andrew did book a flight home to see him play against Forestville in the season opener.

Early in the game, Brandon was burned on several quick slants to the inside. Andrew noticed that Brandon was playing off the receiver, guarding against the deep ball instead of pressing up. So Andrew pulled his brother aside and told him to play tighter coverage and to shade inside. He assured Brandon he had enough speed and instincts to recover on a deep ball without playing so far back.

It proved to be sound advice. Forestville didn't complete another pass to Banks' side, and he even recorded an interception.

"He's able to take what we tell him and go out and do it during a game," Andrew said. "That shows what we're saying is sinking in. For Maurice and I, we love that. It's not just us watching our little brother play out there. It's like a father-son-thing. We've put in so much work on Brandon, and we're so proud of him and what he's becoming."

At this rate, Brandon may eventually develop into the best of the Banks', but his two older brothers still have bragging rights in one area: state championships. In three years, Brandon has never been to a state-title game at Gwynn Park. In fact, he's never even sniffed one.

"He talked so much trash as a freshman, how he'd win four rings by the time he was done," Maurice III said, chuckling. "But then it was three rings, then two rings… We're always getting on him about that. He's got one last shot."

Of course, there's nothing the Banks' would like more than to see their youngest brother, star pupil and friend carry on the family legacy.

And there is nothing Brandon would like more than to repay his mentors.

"This is my calling - to come to Gwynn Park and carry on what my brothers and my father have done here," Banks said. "This is all for them."


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