LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) —  A Southland man who made headlines for being exonerated after spending years in jail on a rape conviction finally realized his goal of playing in the NFL. Even though Brian Banks was cut from the Atlanta Falcons several days ago, he’s determined to make a football comeback.

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“Running out there on the field in the fire, and the smoke, and the flames, and with the crowd cheering — I mean, just everything combined together is an emotional rollercoaster unlike any other,” Banks said. “I’ve never experience such a thrill. It was definitely a dream come true.”

When CBS2/KCAL9 reporter Randy Paige first interviewed Banks in February 2012, the Southern California resident was on probation as a registered sex offender. He had been convicted of a rape that never happened. Banks was just 16 years old and a Long Beach High School football star when a 15-year-old classmate, Wanetta Gibson, accused him of rape.

Banks spent five years in prison and another four on probation before Gibson admitted that she fabricated the story.

“No, he did not rape me,” Gibson can be heard saying in a videotaped by a private investigator, submitted as evidence.

The California Innocence Project helped present Banks’ case to a judge, who exonerated him in May 2012.

I don’t think there would be a moment that would outweigh sitting in that courtroom and hearing the words, ‘You’re free,'” Banks said. “The NFL is big, it’s a huge accomplishment, but freedom is life. And without hearing those words I had no life, so those words mean everything.”

“And that was a moment wasn’t it?” Paige said.

“Oh yeah, best moment of my life, but it was bittersweet,” he said, referring to the fact that he’d lost 10 critical years, but was determined to keep his NFL dreams alive.

He trained tirelessly for the NFL tryouts.

“All I could really think about was football, and I feel that is the only way to really live life is to challenge yourself,” Banks said.

The inspirational player was invited to try out with several NFL teams, including the Seattle Seahawks. He eventually joined a United Football League team in Las Vegas.

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His crowning moment came when he was invited last month by the Atlanta Falcons to play as an inside linebacker during a pre-season game.

“How have you been able to come out the other side of this without a lot of anger,” Paige said.

“It’s human to be angry at things that don’t go your way. But I chose to channel that energy in a different direction; rather than fight fire with fire I chose to use success as my revenge,” Banks replied.

Banks is now a free agent after being released by the Falcons several days ago. While he’s admittedly disappointed, Banks said he has no regrets.

“Football is a dream of mine, and I chased the dream, and I will continue to chase it as long as I can. But when it’s over that means it’s just new beginnings in other places of my life,” the football player said.

He hopes for another chance to play in the NFL but he’s also considering other options, including public speaking, to share the lessons he’s learned through the ups and downs.

“I think one of the most important ones is just the will to never give up. Try not to focus so much on the obstacles in front of you and try to realize there’s a light beyond those obstacles,” Banks said.

Banks also plans to work with lawyers from the California Innocence Project who helped to set him free.

“There’s plenty of Brian Bankses behind bars right now that need help, that need the assistance of proving their innocence,” Banks said. “So that’s definitely going to be one of my main focuses, is working with them.”

Banks continues to amaze with his positive spirit and a comeback that transcends the football field.

“A year and a half ago I used to walk out of the house and hope to not be seen, you know, in fear that someone would recognize me from some sex offender registry online or something crazy like that,” Banks said. “Now that I walk out of the house people are asking for my autograph. I’m living a life that I thought I would never have. I’ve experienced so much in a year and a half, more than what some people experience in a lifetime, and it’s just getting started, it’s just the beginning.”


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