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Originally published June 7, 2012 at 5:04 PM | Page modified June 8, 2012 at 12:38 PM

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Brian Banks makes most of opportunity with Seahawks

Brian Banks, 26, was recently exonerated after spending five years in jail, then another five on parole. Now he's getting a chance with the Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll, who had once recruited him to play linebacker at USC.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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RENTON — Brian Banks still has a chance, which is quite incredible considering all he has gone through.

He was incarcerated for five years and on parole for five more before being exonerated last month of charges of rape and kidnapping.

That's what made the tryout Thursday with the Seahawks so remarkable. After losing a decade to California's criminal-justice system, Banks was invited to Seattle for an audition as an NFL linebacker and he got to make the trip without the GPS tracking device he wore for years. Not only that, but his first impression was strong enough the team requested a second look, inviting him to participate in the three-day minicamp starting Tuesday.

"I was really proud to be able to say that to him," coach Pete Carroll said. "And the light in his eye, the emotion that was running through him was amazing. This is a great illustration for us of why people deserve a second chance because of what he's overcome."

It was fitting that Banks' first NFL tryout would be with Carroll, the coach who offered him a scholarship to play linebacker at USC 10 years ago.

That was after Banks' junior year at Long Beach Poly, and before he was accused and charged with raping a fellow student. With Banks facing the possibility of more than 40 years in jail, his lawyer advised him to accept a plea agreement, which Banks did. He was sentenced to a six-year prison term, served just more than five years and was released on parole. Banks' accuser recently recanted her accusation, and with help from the California Innocence Project, Banks' conviction was overturned. He was exonerated May 24 in California Superior Court.

Now 26, Banks stands 6 feet 2, 239 pounds and can still run 40 yards in less than 4.7 seconds. It was his grace, though, that was most striking when he answered questions after the workout Thursday, wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned, "XONR8." Instead of looking back at what he's lost, Banks talked about the possibilities that have opened up in the weeks since his exoneration.

"The opportunities that I've received, men dream of those days," Banks said. "They get up every morning, they work hard for that type of offer. I just want to make sure that I'm prepared."

He expressed no animosity toward his accuser, no anger about the time he served in prison or on parole. He looked toward the future and smiled, feeling a freedom to determine his own future.

"Look where I am today," Banks said, motioning his arms toward the Seahawks' indoor practice facility. "I thank God for this. This is a blessing. The last thing I want to do is be bitter."

He played football for one year the past decade. That was 2007 at Long Beach City College after he was released from prison. After that season, the state of California began requiring parolees convicted of sex offenses to wear a GPS device.

"It just pretty much eliminated any chance of me continuing to play football," Banks said.

Until last month, that is. Half a dozen NFL teams have offered tryouts to Banks, according to his lawyer. But the coach who once recruited him to college was first in line.

"It really was a big thing for me to have him reach out to me," Banks said. "I know that I've been out of this game for so long, with him not knowing what I can do physically, and just giving me the opportunity, it really speaks a lot about coach Carroll."

Banks appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno on Wednesday, then boarded a flight to Seattle, his first trip on an airplane in 15 years. He didn't even mind taking off his shoes during the security check.

"I know a lot of people complain about that," Banks joked, "but I was thrilled about it."

His wake-up call came at 6:45 on Thursday morning, and after having a medical evaluation, he went to the Seahawks facility for an individual workout. He ran, jumped and then went through position drills.

Banks said he would talk to his agent before deciding to accept the Seahawks' invitation to the minicamp. Other teams have offered workouts as well.

Thursday was more like a first step than a final judgment. The prospect of making the Seahawks' regular-season roster remains a longshot, but Banks has a chance, and after everything he's been through, that possibility is a remarkable testament to his patience and perseverance.

"This is one of those stories we need to follow, see what happens," Carroll said. "Regardless of how it turns out, it's the fact that he's made it to this point, and he's going to get this opportunity. I hope it helps other people."

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @dannyoneil

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