October 25, 2009 12:02:00 AM
Danny P Smith -
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State freshman safety Johnthan Banks wasn''t going to be intimidated Saturday night by the University of Florida.
Even though the Bulldogs lost a 29-19 decision to the No. 2 Gators, Banks showed he belonged on the field.
The former East Webster High School standout intercepted senior quarterback Tim Tebow twice and returned both for touchdowns. He returned the first one 100 yards with 27 seconds remaining in the second quarter to pull MSU (3-5, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) within 13-10 at halftime.
Banks thought it was "special" to intercept a Heisman Trophy winner twice in the one game, but he was more concerned about what the game meant to the Bulldogs.
"It hurt we lost, but we showed the world what Mississippi State is about, and in the future everybody will know," Banks said.
Banks was on a receiving end of a Tebow stiffarm with 13 minutes, 16 seconds remaining in the second quarter. It came during a 26-yard run by Tebow.
The play appeared to spark Banks, whose 100-yard interception return came when the Gators (7-0, 5-0), who were leading 13-3, had a third-down at the MSU 8 and were threatening to put the game away.
Banks grabbed a Tebow pass that fellow freshman defensive back Corey Broomfield tipped and raced down the right sideline. He cut back across the field, picked up a couple of blocks, and outran the defenders.
MSU coach Dan Mullen called it "an amazing play by (Banks)." Banks said he "was just in the right spot and made a play on (the football)."
Banks settled into the defensive backfield not long after he stepped onto the practice field for the Bulldogs in August.
One year ago, Banks was doing a little bit of everything for coach Jimmy Carden and the Wolverines.
"He was a receiver, running back, quarterback, and was the point guard on his basketball team," Mullen said. "He did the whole deal, so you''ve got to take a player with those skills. We thought he could be a good wide receiver, then we thought we needed that athleticism on the defensive side of the ball. Our plan was to play great defense, so we put him there. He''s really growing and developing."
Banks, who made his third consecutive start, has surprised himself by earning so much playing time.
"I really didn''t think I was big enough to play Division I football as a freshman, but size isn''t everything," Banks said.
MSU senior linebacker Jamar Chaney knew from the moment he saw Banks he could step in and make an impact.
"He was one of the best defensive backs on the team to me," Chaney said. "When the ball is in the air, he''s got good skills. You are going to see a lot of him. He''s going to be a great one at Mississippi State."
Banks said he was exhausted after running 100 yards with his first pick, but he wasn''t done as he intercepted Tebow again with 3:51 left in the fourth quarter and returned it 20 yards for a score to close the final margin to 29-19.
"I was really tired, but I sucked it up and went out there and did my thing," Banks said.
Banks said the plays wouldn''t have been possible if the corner backs hadn''t been locked down on the receivers and the rest of the defense hadn''t pressured Tebow.
But Tebow (215 total yards) and the Gators (376 total yards) proved to be too much for the Bulldogs.
Mullen, who was the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at Florida for four years, was proud of MSU''s effort.
"We fought hard, but it''s just a play here or there we''ve got to make," Mullen said. "We''re going to keep growing and keep developing."