Athletic explosion, a champion’s heart


George Morin / The Advocate

Quarterback Jonathan Banks and guard Ahjahna Coleman earned 2014-15 Athlete of the Year honors for their leadership and outstanding performance on the field and on the court.

By Robert Clinton, Sports Editor

The decision to play freshman quarterback Jonathan Banks at the end of a lopsided loss to West Hills College-Coalinga in the second game of the season came on a whim for Comet coach Alonzo Carter.

The Pacific 7 Coach of the Year knew what kind of talent the Houston native and Advocate Male Athlete of the Year possessed, but having only been with the team for a week, Carter was not sure Banks was ready to shoulder the offensive responsibility.

What came next would change the course of the season entirely.

“In the first game he held a clipboard so this game we decided to let him dress,” Carter said. “We were down by four scores and we decided it couldn’t hurt to put him in there. He wasn’t even taped. He led the team down the field for a touchdown, then another one. After that we just knew it.”

The Comets’ loss in the WHC game was the only for the team and sparked a nine-game winning streak spearheaded by the play of Banks.

CCC was not the first choice for the quarterback. After being recruited to the area by San Jose State, he opted to try his hand at a different school in pursuit of maximum playing time.

In his next game for the Comets against Reedley College Banks started at quarterback.

Banks scored a rushing touchdown in each of the four quarters and also threw two touchdown passes of 43 and 78 yards, to Comet wide receiver Frank Stephens.

Watching Banks run over would-be tacklers steals anyone’s attention, like seeing an overturned car on the freeway.

It becomes amusing watching so many people who practice tackling all grab the same guy, yet none get him down alone.

“He just does things people normally don’t do,” Carter said.

Banks escapability was on display midway through the season against the College of the Redwoods Oct. 25.

In that rain-soaked, mud-covered contest five hours up the California coast, Banks rushed for 183 yards on 17 carries.

That day, the freshman only rushed for one touchdown — a 95-yard scramble through the heart of the Corsair defense that put the Comets up two scores shortly after halftime.

In the game, Banks’ jersey was ripped to shreds like Earl Campbell’s in his epic run. Like that, but in the rain.

The only exception was Banks’ run covered the length of the field for a touchdown.

That game was the way people envision football — gritty and dirty, like it was meant to be played.

Though his acts seem mighty on the field, the Texan regularly uses sir and ma’am and rarely discusses his contributions to the game without paying proper respect to the teammates he says he couldn’t do any of this without.

“I’m delighted and blessed to have him on my side,” Carter said. “When you mix in all of that athleticism with his positive attitude, it takes him to another level.”

In 10 games this year Banks gained 1,992 rushing and passing yards and scored 17 touchdowns, aided by a top-ranked defense. The Comet ball hawks gave the dual threat ample opportunities to put points on the board and get butts out of their seats.

Carter said people who have been in the game for years have come up to him to say they haven’t seen talent like his on this level in a long time.

Quarterback coach Jeff Anderson helped guide Banks in his first year behind center. The two have already started working to prepare for the challenge of attempting to repeat a championship season — this time with tougher opponents and the whole league aiming to gain a reputation by knocking off the defending champions.

“We are taking feedback that we got from the universities on where we can get better mechanics, footwork,” Anderson said. “This isn’t his last stop and we want to make sure we’re there to help him grow as a person. We want to give him a base foundation of knowledge that he can take anywhere.”

The quarterback already has his athletic goals set for this upcoming season.

“I plan to come into this season extremely focused,” Banks said. “The plan is to go undefeated and defend our championship in another bowl game.”