December 12, 2012 8:55:24 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Tobias Smith has lived his entire life in the state of Mississippi, so he has a unique perspective on Johnthan Banks winning the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award.
For Smith and a majority of Banks' Mississippi State University football teammates, it wasn't lost on them that a native of the Magnolia State was bringing a gift back home: the gift of hope and dreams.
"I wasn't able to watch it live because I was studying for graduate school exams, but my first thought honestly when I heard he won was 'How great is this for Mississippi?' " Smith, a fifth-year senior offensive guard said Friday. "If you think about it, we're last in so many things here, but John proved we can still be proud of something here in Mississippi."
The Bulldogs' senior cornerback won the Jim Thorpe Award on Thursday. The award, which is given annually to the top defensive back in college football, is the first individual national award for a MSU player in the 113-year history of the program. Smith knows there are more critical issues than athletics that plague Mississippians every day, but he said Banks can take pride Banks in winning the award because he can make a difference in the lives of kids from small towns and help them dream big.
"What John does is make every kid that grows up in Maben, or my town of Columbus, or anywhere in the state, think they can make a difference," Smith said. "Banks is making a difference on the football field, and people see that on television but he's also a great student, father, and family man that people don't get to see."
Banks, a Walter Camp All-American who Tuesday was named second-team All-American by The Associated Press, has 59 tackles, seven pass breakups, four interceptions, two tackles for loss, a fumble forced, and a fumble recovery. He will have one more chance to add to those totals at 11 a.m. Jan. 1, 2013, when MSU takes on Northwestern in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
Among active players in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Banks, a co-captain, is first in career interception yards (320), is tied for third with 16 career interceptions, is tied for sixth in interceptions returned for touchdowns (three), and is tied for eighth with 26 career pass breakups.
Until this season, former MSU cornerback Fred Smoot in 2000 was the only finalist for a national award in school history. Banks also was named a first-team member of the media and coaches' All-Southeastern Conference teams.
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. He even had his likeness on a promotional billboard near his hometown. The billboard, which is no longer up on Highway 82 as you enter Starkville, is something Banks said he wanted when his playing career was over.
"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' son Keidan, referred mostly as K.J., was the admitted driving force in his decision to return to MSU so he could spend more time with his family, including his girlfriend of four years, and be there as a father.
"People understand I want to play in the NFL, but the money or draft stuff had nothing to do with my decision to stay here at Mississippi State," Banks said in April. "My little boy and being with him right as much as possible had everything to do what that. If I'm drafted to a team, I'd have to move away from my family, my son, my girlfriend, and my football family here. That wasn't something I wanted to have happen yet."
MSU coach Dan Mullen was seen during the presentation tearing up with his wife, Megan, when Banks accepted the award in Florida.
"You want to see and you want to help young people develop to be the best they can in life and see them have their dreams come true," Mullen said. "Here is a young man from Maben, Mississippi, that believed in our program, believed in what we were doing right here, bought in 100 percent in everything he does Just to be there, to be with him and a part of it knowing all he has went through before he got here and all he has gone through while he's been here to become the best he can be is pretty special."
Banks, who wants to maintain his Mississippi roots by eventually being a state highway patrol officer when his football career is over, was a three-star prospect coming out of the East Webster High. He returns regularly to the school in Cumberland, and was a frequent visitor earlier this year after a tornado ripped through the area in 2011 and destroyed school buildings, including the football field house.
"I keep in touch with everybody all the time and I'm home checking on my school," Banks said. "I remember during the morning after the storm I went out there to check on if everybody was cool. We all came together as a family."