HAWTHORNE (CBSLA.com) — Brian Banks has quite a story to tell.
Students at Hawthorne High School Wednesday listened intently as the former high school football star told them that, at 16 years old, a classmate wrongly accused him of rape and kidnapping.
Banks lost his full ride to USC and spent five years in state prison, and another four years as a registered sex offender.
That’s when his alleged victim, Wanetta Gibson, admitted on video that she made it all up.
A few months later, with the help of the California Innocence Project, Banks was exonerated and making headlines.
Within days of being set free, former USC football coach Pete Carroll offered banks a second chance, this time for a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks. Offers starting coming in from other NFL teams and Banks was signed by the Atlanta Falcons. He played in the pre-season before he was cut from the team.
Banks is now turning to public speaking to share his story, with the hope of helping other teens realize their dreams.
“When you look into the eyes of these kids what do you see?” CBS2/KCAL9 reporter Randy Paige said.
“I see me when I was 16 years old,” Banks said with a laugh.
Banks told the students they should use his experiences as a lesson that misfortune doesn’t have to tie them down.
“You can sit here and let those bad situations affect the rest of your life, or you can learn from your bad situations and realize it’s not the end of the world – it’s just the beginning,” Banks said.
Students say the message got through.
“Don’t quit, I mean, ‘cause he didn’t quit. He had a childhood dream and he just kept continuing to pursue it after all he went through,” one student said.
Banks is now heading for speaking engagements in Baltimore and Washington DC, where he plans to represent Innocence Projects and to speak to legislators about new laws to protect the innocent.
His life story has even inspired a feature film, which is currently in production.
“These are the rewards and the fruits of hard work, of staying true to you and never giving up in those dreams,” Banks said. “And it’s also a part of a calling; I’m here doing what I’m doing because I’m supposed to. I went through what I went through for a reason. What that reason is I’m not sure yet, but it’s taken me in a direction that has given me more clarity as the days go by.”