From University Relations
STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks is looking forward to the New Year, the Gator Bowl and the spring’s NFL draft.
However, the nation’s top defensive back is also reminiscing this holiday season about his successful journey to the top of his game.
In preparation for his final appearance with the Bulldogs on Jan. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla., Banks is quick to point out that it hasn’t been just about individual statistics and honors. For the Oktibbeha County native, it’s also about hope, inspiration, family and his team.
“I think I’ve set my standards high and been a good example, so I hope this gives my teammates something to think about and lets them know to get out there and set their own goals,” said America’s 2012 Jim Thorpe Award winner.
The award has catapulted Banks into the national spotlight, with speculation building about a first round pick in the NFL draft, and locally making him the first MSU player to win an individual national honor in the university’s 113-year football tradition.
“I want to leave this university with hope. With two back-to-back bowl wins and three consecutive bowl invitations, we’ve shown we can do it, we’ve improved the fan base, and everybody is believing in us,” he said.
MSU’s football seasons with Banks have definitely heightened fan enthusiasm for the Bulldogs and for the All American. For a player out of high school who wasn’t recruited by many schools, the East Webster graduate has been a gem cut almost to perfection at MSU through his hard work, guidance from the coaching staff and support from teammates.
Banks leads the nation in career interception yards with 320, and has three career interceptions returned for touchdowns, placing him in a sixth-place tie. This fall, he had 59 tackles, broke up seven passes, had two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
“I want my teammates to know, ‘If Johnthan can do it, I can do it,’” he said.
He also wants to be an example for young players trying to make their way to the college level.
“When I go home, there are some who want to be like me. I watch my actions, what I do, what I say. I just watch how I carry myself as a man and as a person, and try to do the right things,” he said when mentioning the town of Maben, with a population of about 870. It’s a community where family means so much, especially at this time of year and, for Banks, at this point in his life.
His focus may be on the upcoming trip to the Gator Bowl, but it’s also on those who have been such an important part of his personal path, including his late father and grandfather. “I think a lot about them. It was at this time of year that I lost my father. I have many Christmas memories with both of them, and I think about all the good times-laughing, talking, smiling,” the 24-year-old said.
Banks’ face also lights up when his son, KJ, and his grandmother, Maggie Banks, are mentioned. His grandmother raised him after his grandfather died, and taught him what he calls “everyday life skills.”
“I look at the things she’s been through, and it just motivates me to keep pushing and keep going,” he said. “Hopefully, one day all of this will pay off, and I can take care of her.”
Banks won’t be just taking care of her with any monetary rewards he might see from an NFL first-round pick; he’ll also be finding other ways to thank her.
One way, he mentioned, is by cooking for her. He’s recently learned how to barbecue, getting tips from his girlfriend’s mom.
While he seems to have mastered hamburgers, he said he’s still practicing on steaks. “I’m still not the best, but I’m getting there,” he said.