Brian Banks was inside a New York television studio, waiting to tape an episode of "The View," when he got a long-awaited call from a friend.
For weeks, Banks had known that signing a contract to play with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons was a possibility. But he had tried out with several NFL teams the season before and did not come away with a contract.
“You’re holding your breath,” Banks’ attorney Justin Brooks said.
Brooks was with Banks and his mother Tuesday when the exonerated former high school football standout heard the magic words: The Falcons wanted Banks in Atlanta the next day for a physical exam. Assuming he passed, the team would sign him.
“He screamed ‘We did it! we did it!’” Brooks said. “And he was hugging me and hugging his mom.
“Brian was over the moon.”
Wednesday, Banks signed a contract with the Falcons, calling it “the biggest accomplishment of my life,” other than regaining his freedom. Almost a year ago, a judge dismissed his rape conviction.
In 2002, a classmate accused Banks of rape. At the time, the 17-year-old linebacker was drawing attention from USC, UCLA and other schools, he said, even though he had just completed his junior year at Long Beach Polytechnic High School.
Banks insisted that his sexual contact with the classmate was consensual, but his lawyer advised him to plead no contest rather than risk being sentenced to 41 years to life in prison in a he-said-she-said trial. Banks did as his lawyer advised and spent five years in prison and another five on parole.
Then, in 2011, his accuser reached out to him on Facebook. She admitted she had lied about the alleged rape in a conversation that was taped by Banks and a private investigator.
The tape interested Brooks and the California Innocence Project, whose investigators found other evidence to back up Banks' claims. He was ultimately exonerated in May 2012.
Brooks has spent a lot of time with his former client since then. He said Banks lived with him for about six months in San Diego, training the whole time.
Multiple NFL teams invited him to try out, but he was never signed. Without an NFL deal, Banks spent the 2012 season with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League.
The day Brooks took his case, Banks told him he was going to try to make it in the NFL. Wednesday’s contract signing represented another step toward that goal.
“We’re happy when our clients can get out of prison and get a job and get housing and get a good life back,” Brooks said. “The idea that Brian could get out of prison and get his childhood dream back is crazy.”
Brooks insisted the signing was not a publicity stunt, noting the Falcons have they eyes on the Super Bowl and needed depth at linebacker, the position Banks plays.
“I believe he’s going to hang on – he’s going to make a roster and he’s going to play,” Brooks said. “They’re not going to find anyone more focused than him. They’re not going to find anyone more determined than him. You’re not going to find a mentally tougher player in the NFL – you’re really not.”