Banks Building Up To A Big Senior Season

He's been through this August routine before. And before, and before, and…you get the idea. No wonder Johnthan Banks is unapologetically glad to complete the last two-a-days of his college career. "It's sweet, sweet," he said. "It ain't bittersweet, it's sweet-sweet!"

In fact the only thing throwing a chill on this senior Bulldog's enthusiasm is the transition from steamy practice days to air conditioned interview rooms. Media are much softer than the guys being questioned about Mississippi State camp, understand. Still for Banks to report for interviews wearing a hooded sweatshirt…? And wearing one with ‘25' on it?

"It's cold in here!" the country boy said. "And Broom is always cold and has an extra jacket so I got one of his." Broom being Banks' long-term running buddy in the Bulldog secondary Corey Broomfield. Who as all know stands several inches shorter than the 6-2 (he looks taller) Banks, which raises another eyebrow or two. "They run these things big, mine swallowed me," Banks explained. Leaving one to wonder how it must look on the 5-10 (he doesn't) Broomfield. More on their career-long relationship in a moment.

For now Banks, and all his upper-classmates on the 2012 roster, are breathing easier with wrapup of two-a-days practicing. And, the pending end to Coach Dan Mullen's traditional training camp at the Farm field. With the fall semester starting Mississippi State relaxes the routine slightly, without easing up on the preseason intensity.

"But it's been fun," Banks said. "Coach Mullen has got the most out of us since I've been here, that's one thing he's done these two-a-days and training camp. He pretty much brings us together and keeps us away from everything. As a team and as a family, that's the thing I like about that."

So while Banks is naturally, and rightly, pleased with the end of double-daily drilling, don't take that as a Dog getting soft in his old age. True, as a proven SEC standout and one of the must-watch defensive players for national awards this season Banks has had a little lighter load so far in camp. Mullen and coordinator Chris Wilson know very, very well what he can and will do. Thus they've been able to get more practice snaps for immediate backups like Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun, who are expected to step into open 2013 starting jobs. That's if they hold off true '12 frosh like Will Redmond and Cedric Jiles who have impressed everyone in the first look.

But taking it easy? Nah. Not State's style. When Banks steps on the practice field he's expected to perform like a veteran while giving the effort of a rookie desperate to earn the job. Practices, Banks said, are hard here.

"Like Coach said, practice should be harder than games. Because people are going to get all-out against you in games. In practice you're going all-out every play and leaving everything on the line." OK, sounds great…but then guys everywhere these August days say similar stuff about their own camps. What lends Banks' evaluation weight is his own experienced viewpoint. "I don't think there's another team in the country that's working as hard as us," he stated, flatly.

"I just see a team out there. Coach Mullen has really pushed us (but) he doesn't really have to say nothing at practice no more." Not for motivation, that is. As Banks repeats, often, there just seems something different about the 2012 preseason with veterans battling each other, old Dogs challenging new to show their stuff, and pups pushing their elders to stay sharp. Banks saw this in smaller doses in 2009, '10, and '11.

"It's been more like that this year, because I think these guys really, really want to win. Not that guys didn't want to win in the past, but I think these guys really believe we can win. That's going to help us have a great season."

A story sure to be repeated all season is why Banks himself stayed around for the senior season. As all know, he weighed early NFL entry in January before staying pat. Or put. There were all the usual reasons; opportunity to mature further, to refine his cornerback technique as well as show some safety-style skills that would only improve his draft status. And of course there is Banks' open ambition to set the Mississippi State interceptions record. He has a dozen picks in three years and needs five to surpass Walt Harris' standard of 16. All that matters.

Yet there is another motivation for staying close to home one more year. Banks' became a father in 2011 and his son turned one in May. The child is in good hands with Banks' girlfriend and her family while daddy gets ready for his key season. "So it's a blessing for me," Johnthan said. All the more so because he had his own early-life disruptions on the family front.

This, he said, factored into his choice of staying. "Because when I was young I didn't have a Dad or a Mom. My Dad died when I was eight years old, my Mom and me had our differences." Mrs. Maggie Banks assumed charge of young Johnthan early on, and Grandpa was a figure not forgotten. "He was a great man, he pushed me and really was a good example how to be a man. He went to work every day and took care of me and my Grandma."

Meanwhile Mrs. Maggie took care of the kid…especially when Johnthan went through a natural emotional dip after dad's passing and failed in school. "It didn't take long, Grandma put that switch on my butt! I changed quick! I think it made me a better person after that." More of his story will be told in an upcoming Dawgs' Bite Magazine feature.

"But it's very important to me that I be a man and take care of my responsibilities, take care of my son and just show him the way." The best method is to meet the high expectations of Banks on the field, while attending to his criminology major which years from now should put him in a Highway Patrol cruiser.

Many years from now, that is, since Banks is working for a long professional career. This senior campaign is his jumping-off point and the Bulldog secondary ought to be one of the nation's elite. It says much that career-corner Broomfield has moved to safety this preseason—Mullen said this week it is not a ‘settled' change just yet—and the unit hasn't missed much of a beat with Darius Slay stepping up.

Nor has it missed Broomfield's bubbling personality been missed with a move off the corner. "You always hear Broom. How can you miss him, with that obnoxious laugh?!" A laugh that has been moved to the safeties meeting room for these August weeks; Banks was in there the other day and… "I ain't going to say nothing!"

"But Broom gets our team going, he gets to talking a little crap. It's always fun to hear him say the crazy stuff he says. But I don't miss him too much because Coach (Melvin) Smith keeps us going." Obviously Banks didn't miss the chance to snag one of Broomfield's hoodies either.

What has really inspired Bulldog fans to dream bigger this preseason are reports, offered by defensive players no less, of how the offense has performed in camp. "They've been great, the best I've seen since I've been here," said Banks, whose opinion counts for much. Tyler (Russell) gets those guys going and he looks great, our wideouts are old guys a lot of them. They can all play.

"So I'm looking for our offense to do really good. In the past it's been the defense that had to carry the team. I'm not going to say the defense ain't going to carry the team because you have to have a good defense to win championships. But I think our offense will be way more productive this year than they have been in the past."

Without, that is, taking anything away from the defense. In fact, as the offense moves chains and scores points the opponent presumably will have to take more risks. Meaning, more chances for Banks & Co. to make more big plays of the turnover type. By the way, Banks has ribbed his buddy Broomfield about not picking a pass in 2011, during which time Banks took the lead. Yeah, but what if the quarterbacks respect Banks so much they don't throw his way, instead going towards the shorter corner-man?

What if Broomfield stole that record, in other words? "I don't know if I could handle that," Banks said with a shake of the head. "But I try not to be selfish about it. If he's catching my picks that means our team is doing really good."

Good enough to win championships, even? That's the idea. And Banks has another ‘family' in his post-season mind, of having a horde of Bulldog fans follow their team to a big-time bowl game. "I think our fans deserve it, they've been great. I think our fans deserve a great season and deserve to go somewhere in Florida or somewhere it's warm for bowl season."

Well, what about that early-December game in the Georgia Dome? "Indoors would be even better. If we get to Atlanta I'm pretty sure we'd have a hundred-thousand go!"

Where, presumably, Banks can get better-fitting sweats and not need borrow from Broomfield.

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