TAMPA — The unlikeliest starting quarterback of the Robert Weiner era began his prep career on defense. The long passes into Plant’s zone, the crisp crossing routes — Aaron Banks could clear them out with equal parts physicality and footwork.
Downside was, few were watching. Whereas Plant’s football players fed off a crowd’s energy, futbol players fasted. So after much contemplation and agonizing, Banks the soccer lifer decided to transition from sweeper to slinger.
The center-back opted to give quarterback a shot.
“Friday nights, I was here (at Dads Stadium) all the time and it was always packed and everyone was talking about it,” said Banks, seated on the Panthers bench, after a recent workout. “And I was like, ‘This would be cool.’ And so I said why not give it a try.”
In Friday’s preseason game against Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson, Banks, 17, formally begins his third season of organized football at the bay area’s most high-profile position — Plant High quarterback.
He’ll sit at the same spot he always takes for the Carrabba’s-catered pregame meal, listen to two songs (the last one being Paradise by Coldplay), then embark on the quest to become the fifth starting quarterback in seven seasons to lead Plant to a state title.
Weiner insists he easily could have been the fourth. While 2012 graduate James Few won the job last year after a thorough and fair preseason derby, Weiner maintains he feels the Panthers also could have won the Class 8A crown with Banks (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) behind center.
“I played both of them in the (preseason) game last year and then James kind of separated a little bit,” Weiner said. “Obviously that was a good choice; I’m not saying it was the right choice, it was a good choice because James did well for us. I’m not saying (Banks) wouldn’t have done the same thing.
“We think he adds a dynamic to our offense.”
Specifically, Banks brings mobility, moxie and magna cum laude-caliber intelligence, traits brandished by his Ivy League predecessor. An honors student who ended his junior year with a 5.7 weighted GPA, Banks began playing soccer at age 6, eventually hooking up with some elite area club teams.
His lone season of organized football before arriving at Plant was as quarterback of the South Tampa Seahawks of the Tampa Bay Youth Football League as an eighth-grader. Upon arriving at Plant as a freshman, Banks focused on soccer before giving football a crack that spring.
With his quarterback depth chart crammed, Weiner put Banks at receiver, and grew enamored of his physicality. Banks, sensing he wouldn’t be in the quarterback mix any time soon, left after the spring and went back to soccer.
The raw, raucous gravitational pull of Friday nights brought him back the following spring. As Few’s backup last season, Banks logged 140 snaps, a lot of them in non-mop-up situations. This past season, he won the job in a derby that once featured four other competitors.
“When (former state title-winning QBs) Robert (Marve) and Aaron (Murray) and Phillip (Ely) come back and they work with him, they’re like, ‘Coach, I’ve never seen anybody with such good footwork,’ ” Weiner said.
“So what he’s done is, he’s taken the footwork that he had naturally from soccer and then he’s applied it to what we’ve taught him here.”
Inject Banks’ agility into a backfield including sleek 1,300-yard rusher Wesley Bullock and occasionally featuring the bruising breakaway threat of Paris Bostick, and Weiner suddenly has a smorgasbord of options.
As for his arm, Weiner says what Banks might lack in strength he atones for with accuracy. He finished 19-for-27 last season, going 3-for-5 for 72 yards, one TD and one interception in the postseason.
“He’s got a tremendous knack for finding his way through defenses and running, and it’s such a big advantage because Wesley’s so good,” Weiner said.
“So when you have Wesley who’s so good in the backfield, and then you put Aaron back there with him, it’s not like a quarterback and a running back. It’s like you’ve got two running backs, but you’ve also got a quarterback who can throw it.”
Thing is, all of Weiner’s other QBs accessorized their physical skills with at least one essential, intangible trait. Be it Marve’s brash defiance of losing, Murray’s courage or Ely’s valiance, all brandished it at some point.
What will Aaron Douglas Banks bring to the table? Weiner’s eager to find out.
“Maybe perseverance,” Banks says. “I know I haven’t been through a lot of stuff …but I like to think that if I get to that spot that I’ll be able to persevere and keep everyone up and get us through a tough time, or make that play we need in order for our team to get their energy going.”
Friday’s preseason games
(All games at 7:30 p.m. unless noted)
Jesuit at Miami Belen Jesuit, 4
Cambridge Christian at Lakeland Christian, 7
Sarasota Out-of-Door at Berkeley Prep, 7
Alonso at Spoto
Bloomingdale at Durant
Brandon at Blake
Chamberlain at East Bay
Freedom at Strawberry Crest
Gaither at Sickles
Hillsborough at Plant City
Jefferson vs. Tampa Bay Tech (at Armwood) and Gibbs at Armwood (each team will play a half)
Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson at Plant
Leto at Lennard
Newsome vs. Steinbrenner (at Chamberlain)
Northside Christian vs. Seffner Christian (at Brandon)
Middleton at King
Robinson at Clearwater
Tampa Catholic at Boca Ciega
Wharton at Riverview