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Bucs rookie Banks well-grounded

TAMPA — Johnthan Banks, despite his status as the Bucs' top draft pick, can count on the full rookie treatment around One Buc Place.

He'll be expected to fetch fast food for vets, haul helmets and shoulder pads after practice and generally show the deference expected of a first-year player.

But make no mistake: Banks is no boy. He is a doting father to his nearly 2-year-old son. He is a God-fearing man who understands priorities better than most 23-year-olds. He is a fiery leader who speaks in hushed tones off the field but makes his presence known on it.

Johnthan Banks, from every indication, is a man.

That, coupled with his elite cornerback skills, played an important role in the Bucs' decision to make the former Mississippi State standout their second-round pick last week.

"I think his maturity is probably more advanced than a lot of guys his age," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "He has his own family.

"He's played a ton of football. So football-wise, he's mature as well. He's a guy that I really felt fit exactly what we were looking for as a player and a person."

But for the best indication of this, don't look to Banks' coaches and new teammates.

If you want to know about Banks, the man, if you want the most vivid examples of his character, Mallory Banks is your best source.

"Johnthan is so strong and so dedicated," said his wife and high school sweetheart. "And he's very loving. He loves (son) K.J. to death."

Mallory learned during their junior year at East Webster High in tiny Maben, Miss. (population 871) she had an unrelenting admirer: lanky, baby-faced Johnthan, whose efforts were met with silence for roughly a year.

Mallory presumed Banks had a big ego to match his considerable football talent. It wasn't until their senior year, when she finally yielded her phone number, that she learned just how wrong she was. "It turned out that he was just the opposite," she said.

But won't the NFL, with its money and fame, change a country boy who calls riding horses his greatest passion and loves the rural nature of his home state?

"I really believe he'll always be the same person," Mallory said. "He never had much growing up. And I don't think he'll change because what he went through makes him who he is."

Raised by his paternal grandparents after his mother gave him up after birth and his father died in an auto accident when he was 12, Banks didn't have an ideal upbringing. But his family still managed to ensure he had a solid foundation.

"I come from a pretty hard background," Banks said. "But my grandmother raised me in the church, so I'm a Christian. I always try to keep a smile on my face. I'm always willing to help others. God is No. 1 in my life. I have a son, and I have a wife. And they mean a lot to me and are very special.

"Growing up as a kid, I didn't have a lot. So I always said if I ever had a kid and a wife, I was going to make their life as easy as possible so they didn't have to struggle like I did."

That was reinforced when Mallory became pregnant with K.J. It was a daunting proposition, raising a child at their early ages, but Banks never wavered.

"There was no doubt he would be a good father," Mallory said. "I saw how he treated me, so I knew. At first, we both were scared. But he's been there from Day 1."

That didn't change, especially when K.J. was born prematurely, during Mallory's 26th week of pregnancy. During the child's two months in a neonatal intensive care unit two hours away in Jackson, the relationship between the young couple grew stronger. Banks spent long days and nights at his baby's bedside, comforting Mallory in spite of his own fears.

"It was tough sitting there not knowing if your kid is going to be all right," Banks said. "But we're blessed. God kept him alive and well, and he's doing great. But it was an experience I wouldn't want anyone to go through. As a college kid, that was really tough."

Having K.J. only helped Banks focus unwaveringly on both school and football. He'll graduate May 11 from Mississippi State, where he won the Jim Thorpe Award as a senior last season as the nation's top defensive back.

That day, by the way, is K.J.'s second birthday. And Banks' football exploits have him in line for a four-year contract worth roughly $5 million based on his draft position.

Now the accountability that has gotten Banks this far can take him to the next level, he said.

"Being mature and having responsibility," Banks said, "I think it even makes my game better; being willing to put the time in and work in that it takes to be a good football player."

Bucs rookie Banks well-grounded 05/03/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 3, 2013 10:33pm]
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