Former Montour standout, and 2009 Notre Dame signee, E.J. Banks transferred into Pitt this spring and began working out with the football team in the summer. He was expected to have to sit out a year, and be eligible to play starting in 2012, with three years to play three years.
Banks, however, got some unexpected good news on Tuesday. The NCAA waived the transfer rule, making him eligible to play this season for the Panthers. Banks and head coach Todd Graham were pretty excited, in announcing the news on Wednesday.
"I actually found out (Tuesday)," Banks said. "One of the coaches came up to me and told me the great news about everything that was going on. It was in an e-mail; he showed me. That's when I found out."
Banks said he wasn't expecting the waiver to come through. He had put his mindset in taking the 2011 year to learn the new system, and get acclimated to his new school. He already had his mindset on looking forward to playing in 2012. He was amazed at how the good news changed his focus almost immediately.
"It was really a shot in the dark, I didn't know what to expect," Banks said. "The NCAA has a lot of rules that I'm not aware of. I just filled out everything I needed to do as far as compliance. I put it in the compliance guy's hands, and they did a great job with it.
"I was excited. I can't wait. This is what I've been waiting for, to play college ball. Coming out of high school, I was injured. As far as the transfer, and everything, I just never got my shot. I'm trying to take full advantage of it."
Banks signed with the Irish in 2009, but from the time he signed, he faced a number of obstacles. In his final game for the Montour Spartans—he tore his ACL in a playoff game. Notre Dame still honored his scholarship. In fact, as he explained it, he would begin his Notre Dame career as a medical redshirt for the 2009 season.
Then, Charlie Weis—the coach that recruited Banks to South Bend—was fired following the 2009 season. Though it was tough at first, it wasn't too long before that coaching change seemed minuscule to him. He had to deal with his mom being ill and being far away from home. He finished fall classes at Notre Dame in 2010, then came back to Pittsburgh where he took the spring of 2011 off.
"Last fall, I found out that my mom was sick," Banks added. "It was hard for me being away, and she didn't have anybody to get her around. It was just a tough situation for me. After my family was straight, then everything was good and I got back into school."
So, Banks started looking around. His high school head coach—Lou Cerro—started putting the word out to several schools that Banks was planning to transfer somewhere, once he got back to take care of his family.
"After the season, obviously, I started getting on the phone with a lot of (other schools)," Banks said. "They all said I was going to have to sit out the spring semester. I got in touch with (Cerro). He's just great with doing everything. He got the word out that I was trying to transfer and get into another school. I just put it all in my coach's hands."
Banks was recruited by Pitt out of high school. Even though Pitt was in a transition between coaching staffs—something he had experienced at Notre Dame—he quickly took notice of what new head coach Todd Graham and his assistants were all about.
"I really didn't see any differences (between Pitt under Wannstedt and Pitt under Graham), but I really didn't know Coach Wannstedt's staff at all," Banks said. "I just heard great things about Coach Graham, and everything. Obviously, Tulsa, they beat Notre Dame last year. It speaks for itself. His track record has been good. Everything he's been doing—special teams—everything has been tops in the country. I just heard great things, so I wanted to be on board."
Aside from Graham, Banks had been recruited by defensive backs coach Tony Gibson, who was at West Virginia at the time. With some familiarity there, it was easy to accept Gibson as his position coach, because of an existing relationship.
"(Gibson) found out that I wanted to come here, so I spoke with him a little bit," Banks added. "We met for a little bit in the spring, whenever I wasn't in school at all. I spoke with him, I spoke with coach (Chris) LaSala. I spoke with coach (Bob) Junko. He's been the local guy here the longest. He remembered me from high school. They were just some really good plugs that I had."
A new coaching staff, an existing relationship, and the comfort of being at home. Those are a few things that would drive any recruit or transfer to a particular school. Still, Banks found some other pluses about being a Panther. For one, he's in a secondary that includes other former local standouts such as Cullen Christian (Penn Hills), Lafayette Pitts (Woodland Hills), Brandon Ifill (Penn Hills) and Andrew Taglianetti (Central Catholic). These are all players that he attended combines with, and all players he was recruited with at the same time. Now, he gets the chance to play with these guys a year earlier than expected.
"It's great being from the WPIAL, keeping it at home," Banks added. "When I was getting recruited, that's all that Pitt would ever talk about; just staying at home, being a local kid. Instead of going somewhere else and being a small fish in a big pond, you stay at home and be a big fish in an even bigger pond. Just with the parallels of what other people told me, it's just great for all the WPIAL kids to stay here."