GOLD RUSH: Growing in the Trenches
Nov. 19, 2014
This article originally appeared in the November-December issue of Gold Rush.
By Sam Walker
Josh Banks played high school football at Apex's Middle Creek High School right in the heart of the North Carolina Triangle - the cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. It wasn't like he was an unknown entity either as he was named the Tri-Nine conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 among other accolades. Yet somehow, neither N.C. State, North Carolina nor Duke showed much if any interest in getting him to sign a letter-of-intent with their football programs.
Wake Forest, on the other hand, saw a young player with good energy, speed, size and the ability to grow. So signing with the Demon Deacons was a way to prove wrong the programs in his own backyard that overlooked him.
"Duke had a little interest, but N.C. State and UNC - no," Banks said. "So, I came to Wake to whoop up on them. I definitely carry a little grudge against them, so when I play in in-state rivalries I've got a little bit to show them."
Dave Cohen, the defensive line coach for the Deacons, sees a guy who plays hard from snap to whistle against all comers.
"He finishes every play," Cohen said. "I'm excited about his future and his potential to be a dominating player, and I'm really excited to watch his growth and development between now and his senior year.
"There are times in the games when he has been dominant. We've seen flashes of greatness, and now it's if he can do it on a consistent basis. If he can do four quarters of it, then this young man will dominate. He's got the God-given tools, the will, the courage and the whole plan right now is to do it for 60 minutes. Josh is the kind of guy who leads by mouth and example."
Until this season, Banks was a defensive lineman with a ton of potential. As a redshirt freshman in 2013, he played in 10 games and accumulated 13 tackles before injury forced him out of the final two games. So this year Banks is starting to showcase his diverse skill set and athletic ability on a Wake Forest defense that is tough on the competition. The 6-4, 270 pound sophomore from Cary is a spirited force on the line and is known for laying a lick on the opposition.
In high school, Banks played basketball as well as football. He used his size to his advantage, but he always knew football was where his focus was going to be.
"Basketball helped me with football because I could run for my size," he said. "The footwork is used on the D-line, and it definitely helped me more than hurt me."
Before the start of the Dave Clawson era at Wake Forest, Banks was a 255-pound defensive end, but being thin on the defensive line, the new coaching staff started looking for bodies that could grow and compete in the trenches. Banks fit the bill and he's been at tackle all year.
"Coach Cohen and Coach (Mike) Elko came in and saw my weight moving up to 265 or 270, and they put me in the three technique and I've been there ever since," he said after a mid-week practice. "I'm almost 280 and want to get up to 285 by next season. I have a good idea this is where I'm going to be going into next season, so I'm going to go lift and then go eat."
"We only know one way to play and that's to give 100 percent, play hard, and that's the character of our defense," strong safety Ryan Janvion said. "Josh, he's definitely come a long way. We came on campus the same day, and it's crazy to see the player he has grown into today. He's a huge staple on our defense. I'm excited because we're in the same class, and hopefully we'll be able to play ball (together) the rest of my time here at Wake Forest.
"He's just a great dude, takes care of business off the field, too, but he keeps spirits up, especially on the defensive line. He makes sure they're staying in the game and is just being encouraging. The guy has great instincts and just knows where things are going. He has great vision, executes, is great with his hands and is so strong, physical and explosive coming off the line with tremendous moves. So he's a nightmare for the other side of the ball. When you combine all that, you have a freak lineman right there. He's on the right track."
His body of work so far this season includes a pass breakup and a pair of quarterback hurries in the opener against the University of Louisiana-Monroe, which was his first collegiate start. The next week against Gardner Webb he had three tackles (two for loss), and a nine-yard sack in a 23-7 victory. At Utah State, he shined with seven tackles, including two for loss and a sack, along with a 72-yard interception return for a touchdown. For his play at Utah State, Banks was named the ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week.
"That play is so surreal to me because he threw it right to my chest, and I had no choice but to take it to the house," Banks said. "I was afraid somebody was going to catch me, but I turned around, and there was nobody behind me. That award was nice, but I wasn't complacent with it. I have expectations for myself, so for me it was just the beginning."
Banks had three tackles vs. Army in a 24-21 win and added three solo tackles (one for a loss) at Louisville. He forced his first fumble of the season on a tackle at Florida State. He also recorded sacks against Syracuse and Clemson.
"I've learned that building a winning program is a process, and it won't happen overnight," Banks said. "It takes all 22 guys on the field to make that happen. We had to have buy-in, and we had to come in with blind trust and give it our all." Life is intense, from being a student, to the off-field game preparation to the high-octane daily practices on the field. Banks said he really doesn't wind down until he reaches his dorm room after a long day.
He relaxes by watching a few of his favorite TV shows and just resting after pushing his mind and body at a high level all day. But the routine begins again the next morning, and Banks puts on his infectious smile and enthusiasm for the life and game he loves.
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