In this Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013, photo, Atlanta Falcons linebacker Brian Banks (53) closes in on Cincinnati Bengals quarterback John Skelton during an NFL preseason football game in Atlanta. Banks described his preseason debut with the Falcons as "better than any roller-coaster ride you can ever get on." Banks, 28, cherished that high even more than a normal rookie because his life has hit lows few can imagine. Banks spent five years in prison and five years on probation following his conviction of rape and kidnapping charges a decade ago. He is free to finally pursue his career as a NFL linebacker because the woman who made the charge when Banks was 16 and a high school junior recanted her accusation.
Nearly 15 months after walking out of a Long Beach courtroom with his rape conviction overturned, Brian Banks stepped onto the Georgia Dome turf for his NFL debut Thursday night.
"It's better than any roller-coaster ride you can ever get on," Banks said of his first action in a pro football game.
A star linebacker at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, Banks had verbally committed to USC before a rape accusation and eventual conviction landed him a sentence of five years in prison and another five years on probation.
On May 24, 2012, a judge vacated his conviction after Banks' accuser recanted. Walking out of court that day, Banks told reporters that his goal of playing pro football helped keep him focused and calm during the legal ordeal.
Bank's attorney, Justin Brooks of the California Innocence Project, flew to Atlanta to watch his debut.
"I've been able to give my clients their lives back, but I've never been able to give one his dreams back," Brooks said on a phone call from the Atlanta airport. "And that's what it was with Mr. Banks. His childhood dream was to play in the NFL. Last night was the end of a long trip there."
Banks entered the preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half. He was credited with two tackles in the fourth quarter.
Because the L.A. County District Attorney agreed with Banks' exoneration, the criminal case is complete. Brooks said his client is not interested in filing any civil claims related to his time in prison.
"He just wants to look forward," Brooks said.
At the moment, that means competing for a spot on the Falcons' 53-man roster.