Brian Banks' professional football dream is one step closer to coming true.
A decade ago, Banks was a football standout at Long Beach Polytechnic High School in California and had been offered a scholarship to play at the University of Southern California.
Then he was accused of rape. Fearing a potentially long sentence, he followed the advice of his attorney and pleaded no contest to assaulting a classmate.
But he maintained his innocence throughout nearly six years of imprisonment, subsequent probation and registration as a sex offender.
And, according to the California Innocence Project, the woman later admitted that Banks had not kidnapped or raped her during a consensual encounter.
On Thursday, Banks, 26,¬† had his first practice with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League, a four-team minor league circuit. He hopes to be on the field Wednesday in the Locos home opener against the Virginia Destroyers.
‚ÄúThere was a point in my life where I literally had to put football aside to survive in prison. I came home in 2007, went to junior college, and then had to wear a GPS tracking device and I could not play football. But I never lost faith, and I never lost that passion for it,‚ÄĚ Banks said at a press conference on Thursday.
Locomotives coach and general manager Jim Fassel says Banks, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound linebacker, has the character to excel at professional football.
"I can only imagine the toughness he has had to show over the last however many years. For him to clearly set his goals and go after them, he‚Äôs mentally tough. He has all the characteristics you want of someone on your team," Fassel, a former NFL coach, said at the press conference Thursday.
Banks worked out with NFL teams earlier this year and they told him what he needs to do to make it to the sport's top level. Then he got the call from the Locomotives.
‚ÄúThis has been an amazing journey,‚ÄĚ he said Thursday. "This is big, a giant step to my overall pursuit of playing in the NFL. I think this is the best way to gain experience. I thank God for the opportunity.‚ÄĚ