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Hawkeye Found It Hard to Kick Habit

September 25, 1997|CHRIS DUFRESNE

You might say Tavian Banks is off to a fast start. In three games, the Iowa senior tailback has outrushed the combined backfields of USC, Florida State, Colorado and Brigham Young, 644 yards to 546.

If he can wriggle free for 356 yards this weekend against Illinois--have you checked out Illinois?--Banks would be the first player to reach 1,000 yards in four games.

Banks' chances are better of becoming the eighth Division I runner to exceed 1,000 yards in five games.

Not bad for a guy few outside the Big Ten beltway have heard of and one who ranks football a distant second on his list of favorite sports.

As any red-blooded Iowan might, Banks dreams of leading the No. 11 Hawkeyes (3-0) to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1991, where he would no doubt tread respectfully on the hallowed Pasadena grounds and savor the history.

You know, Brazil versus Italy in the 1994 World Cup Final.

"Actually, I like soccer a lot better," Banks said by phone this week from Iowa City. "Not even a question. Soccer you don't have a lot of injuries. Football you have a lot of injuries."

Banks could be the first tailback to credit soccer for making him what he is today--a Heisman Trophy candidate.

"I have never had that combo," Iowa running backs coach Larry Holton confessed. "But you could see why he's a great soccer player. He goes sideline to sideline as quickly as he goes straight ahead."

Banks was an all-state soccer player at Iowa's Bettendorf High and nearly abandoned football to consider soccer scholarship offers from Clemson, South Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin.

"I've been playing [soccer] ever since I could walk," Banks said.

In Iowa, youth soccer is played in the spring, so there was never a conflict.

The decision to play football at Iowa was wrenching and dashed Banks' hopes of making the 1996 Olympic team.

"It was pretty damn close," Banks said. "It came down to the day I had to leave to go to school. A lot goes into it. I had already signed my letter of intent to go to Iowa, so I was going to play football. There's no telling what soccer could have been like. I had to make a decision about which way I could go."

It looks like a good choice now.

With Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning backpedaling to the pack after Saturday's annual loss to Florida, the Heisman race is open wider than the eyes of defenders trying to tackle Banks in the open field.

The early Heisman race would seem to involve Manning, Banks, Marshall's Randy Moss, Michigan two-way star Charles Woodson and maybe Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf and UCLA tailback Skip Hicks.

Yet, Banks' choice of football didn't always look so good.

For three seasons, he was a backup to Sedrick Shaw, Iowa's all-time leading rusher and a third-round pick of the New England Patriots.

Banks, 5 foot 11 and 195 pounds, showed flashes of greatness, rushing for 1,286 yards and 16 touchdowns in relief.

"It was tough at times," Banks said. "But I learned a lot being behind Sedrick."

Banks never considered a transfer because he knew he'd get his chance as a senior.

"This is what I've been preparing for," said Banks, the nation's rushing leader.

After opening with 203 yards against Northern Iowa, Banks broke Ed Podolak's Iowa single-game record with 314 yards against Tulsa.

Last week, Iowa State "held" Banks to 127 yards and four touchdowns in 20 carries.

The quality of opposition is certainly suspect--Banks' gush of rushing yards will no doubt slow against Big Ten competition--but no one is questioning his abilities.

He is averaging 9.6 yards a carry.

Holton was an assistant at Pittsburgh in 1976 when Tony Dorsett was there and later coached Thurman Thomas at Oklahoma State.

"Thurman was a burner, a small-type back, not like Tavian," Holton said. "Tavian is smoother and more graceful, with probably better speed than Thurman. Tony had the burst. He was maybe a half-step faster than Tavian."

Banks says his soccer skills have helped him as a runner.

"It helps with my vision on the football field," he said. "It helps me with my juking, because in soccer you've got to do it with the ball at your foot all the time. In football, all you have to do is carry one."

Banks still gets his soccer fixes. Last year, he and a few ringers helped capture the school's intramural title.

Holton was a frequent spectator.

"He can go play in one of those indoor soccer leagues right now," Holton said. "He's that good."

If Banks wins the Heisman, we're guessing he'll thank Iowa Coach Hayden Fry.

And maybe Germany's Franz Beckenbauer.

ORANGE BOWL MAY BE SEEING RED

With its "weeee're back" win at Washington last week, Nebraska now has the straightest route to the national championship game at the Orange Bowl.

The Cornhuskers jumped from No. 7 to No. 3 in this week's AP poll and, in the weak Big 12, won't face a serious challenge until they meet Colorado in Boulder on Nov. 28. Oh, Nebraska has beaten Colorado five consecutive times.

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