April 6, 2013 at 8:34 AM ET
After being exonerated for a rape he did not commit, Brian Banks has traded a prison jumpsuit for an Atlanta Falcons uniform.
Banks, 27, was once a highly-touted high school prospect, headed to the University of Southern California on a scholarship to play linebacker.
But in 2002, Banks was accused of kidnapping and raping a classmate when he was 16 years old. Potentially facing 41 years to life in prison, Banks said he took the advice of his attorney and pleaded no contest, saying goodbye to his scholarship to play at USC and serving five years behind bars.
After a 10-year ordeal, Banks was finally able to prove his innocence last year, and on Wednesday, he signed a contract with the Falcons to fulfill a wish that had come to seem out of reach.
“To be able to relive the dream I once had, to be able to think about it, breathe it, live it is something I just don't want to take for granted,’’ Banks said on TODAY Saturday.
“Even though we were very hopeful my case would be overturned, I still was living the day-to-day life of a convicted sex offender, ex-con, a parolee,’’ Banks said.
In 2011, after he had served time in jail and been forced to register as a sex offender, Banks was contacted on Facebook by his accuser, Wanetta Gibson. The two met, in a conversation that was secretly taped by a private investigator friend of Banks, and Gibson confessed that Banks did not rape her, leading to his exoneration.
Since then he has spent his time trying to get his football career back on track, attending minicamps for the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. His hard work paid off when the Falcons signed him this week, and he is focused on this being another step in a remarkable journey.
“NFL is just the beginning of my story,’’ Banks said. “You're going to see a man of determination, of willpower, someone who's going to work hard to be the best he can.”