A Closer Look: Big-Time Banks Clings to Small-Town Roots

MSU’s Johnthan Banks has four interceptions this season and 16 for his career. (Photo by Deste Lee)

Johnthan Banks‘ football career has carried him to great heights and brought him new experiences. But as you can read in today’s Journal, he still stays true to himself and to his home.

Most of y’all know Banks’ back story. He was raised by his grandmother, played at a Class 1A high school (East Webster), and had just one college football scholarship offer – from MSU. He now has been recognized as the top defensive back in the country and has NFL riches and more fame awaiting him.

Part of my story looks at the tight bond between Banks and his best friend, Mitchell McCurry. The two grew up together; McCurry said they were basically raised together.

“We stayed a block away from each other, we played together every day,” McCurry said. “We just grew up from childhood, because we played a lot of sports together from childhood all the way up to high school. We got to know each other a lot better like that. His grandma basically took me in like a son, and my mom treated him like a son.”

For all that’s been written about Banks over the years, here and elsewhere, there is still plenty to learn about him. He comes off as a very serious, focused person, but McCurry said there’s a lighter side to Banks.

“You get to know him, he’s basically a comedian,” he said.

We know of Banks’ love for horses, and my story mentions that he rode one in the Mathiston Christmas parade last weekend. But just how deep is that love for horses? His basketball coach at East Webster, Cliff Little, related a story to illustrate that. During his eighth grade year, Banks was on the varsity basketball team, and the Wolverines were set to play Houlka in the first round of the North half tournament. Banks skipped a practice so he could go ride horses.

“We sat him out and got beat,” Little said.

Banks has become a little more disciplined since then, but he still loves to ride. He loves his home, too, which is why he’s so often seen back in Maben and Webster County, going to high school games, reading to kids or just hanging out with his family. All the accolades he’s accumulated do not appear to have changed him at all, according to McCurry.

“In some ways I still can’t believe it, especially when he won the Jim Thorpe Award, and I was like, this is the Johnthan Banks I grew up with. This my best friend, and he’s on the big stage. It’s kind of unbelievable. I couldn’t be more happy for him.”

Making it big from a small town isn’t easy, and McCurry talked at length about how his career didn’t live up to his own expectations. After a stellar career at East Webster – he and Banks led the Wolverines to the 2008 Class 1A state championship in basketball – McCurry played two years of juco football and was done. When he looks at Banks, he’s obviously ecstatic for his friend, but there is a twinge of regret.

Daily, I kind of regret it,” McCurry said. “He showed me I could’ve made it if I had put all my heart into it. I basically gave up, because I listened to what everybody else said instead of going with what I really knew I could do. If I had a chance to do it over, I believe I’d be better off.”

He’s doing OK, though. McCurry is married and working on an education degree at Ole Miss. He plans to get into coaching.

I am the online content coordinator for DJournal.com. Previously at the Journal, I covered Mississippi State athletics (2008-13), high schools (2004-08), and was on the copy desk (2002-04). I'm working on a recipe for bacon-flavored coffee, which would solve all the world's problems.

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