Comeback Kid

After a season on the sidelines, former Iowa quarterback Brad Banks has returned to the field. The Belle Glade Florida native has been getting prepared for his first game action on Thursday when his Ottawa Renegades face Montreal in a CFL preseason contest. caught up with Banks to see how things were working out for him and to get his thoughts on taking the road less traveled to his NFL dream.

His frequently ringing cell phone manages to interrupt the first few minutes of the interview. On this occasion, Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Jerome McDougle is checking in to see how his old buddy from Florida is doing.

Brad Banks gets calls like this from his cousin, Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin, and any number of football players he grew up with in Florida. He always has been well liked. People have been attracted to the easy-going, friendly personality and warming smile.

The Belle Glade native reached his height of popularity in 2002 with a runner-up finish in the Heisman Trophy voting during a season in which he led Iowa to an undefeated Big Ten season and trip to the BCS' Orange Bowl.

From the bravado of Broadway to the sultry streets of South Beach, the lights burned brightly on Banks. But they dimmed quickly after the season ended. By last fall, football left the quarterback's life.

Move ahead to the late spring of 2004, and Banks has returned under center. His spirits are lifted as evidenced by his laughing while conversing with McDougle.

Following the advice of Hawkeyes Coach Kirk Ferentz, Banks joined the Canadian Football League's Ottawa Renegades this winter. The team started training camp last week.

"He just told me that the best thing is just to get on the field," Banks said. "It don't matter where. When I thought about it, I was like, "Yeah, it's true." You don't want to be sitting around too much."

Banks entered camp listed No. 3 on the Renegades depth chart behind incumbent starter Kerry Joseph, a 31-year-old veteran from McNeese St, and his backup, Darnell Kennedy, 26, from Alabama St. Joseph completed 58.6 percent of his passes last season with 19 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Kennedy threw just five passes in '03.

"I'm just going to work my way up like I did when I came to Iowa," Banks said. "Right now, I'm just trying to get prepared for when I do play, and when I do play, to do a great job. I just need to do everything that I need to do to succeed up here."

Ottawa called Banks in February, extended an offer and gave the quarterback time to think about it. He decided that he needed to play and that the CFL style fit his game.

The league promotes offense. There are three downs, which encourages passing, each team gets an extra player, and there is more distance from sideline to sideline.

"The wider field, that makes it a lot more fun," Banks said.

Banks wasn't having much fun last fall after the Washington Redskins released him following his signing as an undrafted free agent. The disappointed quarterback returned to Belle Glade to train in hopes of getting a call from a team in need. It never happened.

"It was very tough to sit around and wait and wait," Banks said. "I tried doing other things to keep myself occupied like hanging out with my family and enjoying my time with them. But it was tough not playing for the first time during a football season for the first time since I was seven or eight."

The 2002 Associated Press National Player of the Year was out of work. Nobody was interested in the guy that threw 26 touchdowns against just five interceptions as a senior.

Banks found it difficult to even watch football on TV. He managed to take in the Iowa games when they were national broadcasts.

"I watched highlights (of the NFL games)," Banks said. "I couldn't really sit and watch games. That was kind of tough."

Banks, almost always spinning a positive outlook on life, was frustrated by critics that ignored his on-field accomplishments and focused on his 6-foot frame - short by NFL standards - and relative inexperience - just one season as a college No. 1.

"(The money) is OK (in the CFL), but I really wasn't looking at the money thing," he said. "I was looking at it as far as gaining experience and improve as a QB. I also want to prove to others that it's real. I can play. I've been doing it so long. I've come this far. I'm not going to give up because of what somebody says about my height or that I only started a year (in college).

"They get caught up on a lot of other stuff and don't look at the simple fact of "Can he play or not?" I could see if I wasn't good or doing everything that I was supposed to do. But man, it's kind of tough when you do all of these things that you needed to do, and you still don't get what you're trying to do.

"I've been playing this sport my whole life, and I've always had to prove people wrong. I'll just continue to do it and continue to play and enjoy it. If you do all of that, everything else takes its place as far as proving people wrong and showing them that you can do it."

Banks chuckled when he heard about the criticism thrown at his successor at Iowa, Nathan Chandler.

"He did a great job," Banks said of Chandler. "I knew he would do OK because (Iowa Offensive Coordinator Ken) O'Keefe is a good coach. And next year, they're going to be fine. People just need to believe."

And Banks believes he has returned home to his rightful place on the gridiron. He officially will return to the field on Thursday for the Renegades' preseason opener against Montreal. Head Coach Joe Paopao told the Ottawa Citizen newspaper that Joseph likely would play the first half with Kennedy and Banks each working a quarter.

"Right now, I think that this is a good step for me," Banks said. "I just want to play while I can and get the best out of this. The more that you play, the better that you're going to get."

Hawkeye Insider Top Stories