December 7, 2012 10:06:27 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- When he decided to return for his senior season at Mississippi State University, Johnthan Banks' defensive coordinator knew his standout player had a chance to accomplish big things.
"The excitement for John is the decision he made shows a lot of maturity," MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said April 12. "What happens now is he'll get an opportunity to be a possible All-American candidate on a solid football team, and those are just some of the things that make college football great."
Banks realized another piece of what Wilson believed he could achieve Thursday night when the senior cornerback received the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award. The annual award is given to the top defensive back in college football. It is the first individual national award for a MSU player in the 113-year history of the program.
Banks received the award at the National College Football Awards Banquet at the Boardwalk Hotel and Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. It was broadcast live on ESPN.
University of Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner and Fresno State University safety Phillip Thomas were the other finalists for the award.
"It's a blessing from God to be given this opportunity," Banks said. "I want to first thank the Jim Thorpe Association. It's kind of shocking. There are so many great defensive backs in the country, and this is all just a dream to me."
Banks, a Walter Camp All-American, had 59 tackles, seven pass breakups, four interceptions, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Among Football Bowl Subdivision active players, the senior co-captain is first in career interception yards (320), is tied for third with 16 interceptions, is tied for sixth in interceptions returned for touchdowns (three), and is tied for eighth with 26 pass breakups.
Banks. a former standout at East Webster High School in Maben, was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award last season. This season, Banks was one of MSU's featured athletes, and had his likeness on a promotional billboard near his hometown.
"Four years ago, Johnthan Banks made a decision to stay at home and represent the people of Mississippi," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "What a tremendous honor for a young man from Maben, Mississippi, to be honored with the Jim Thorpe Award for the best defensive back in college football. It is something special for the entire state of Mississippi."
Mullen has repeated the story of how Banks was recruited to MSU. He said MSU assistant coaches told him they weren't in danger of losing Banks to another school because "you couldn't find his high school on a normal GPS system."
Until this season, former MSU cornerback Fred Smoot in 2000 was the school's only finalist for an individual award. Banks also was a first-team pick to the media and coaches' All-Southeastern Conference teams earlier this week.
"I've seen the billboard, and I hope it's something my son can see so he knows his daddy was able to accomplish his dream of going to Mississippi State and doing what he loved there. That's what I hope it represents for him," Banks said in April. "I hope if they ever take it down that maybe they'll let me keep it for me and my family to have."
Banks earned recognition this season because opponents rarely challenged his side of the field. According to MSU officials, opponents threw in his direction just 60 times in man coverage. Banks allowed 37 catches for 422 yards.
Banks is the fourth-straight player from the SEC to receive the Jim Thorpe Award. In addition to earning that honor, Banks was honored Thursday by the Walter Camp Football Foundation as a first-team All-American.
"Thanks to the Bulldog nation for all the love and support!!!," Banks said via his Twitter account, @JBANKS_13, late Thursday night. "This wouldn't be possible without my teammate I love you guys!!"