Jonathan Banks: Small-school defensive back paying big dividends for Bulldogs

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – Johnthan Banks is not a man with grand designs. He likes to ride horses, wants to be a highway patrolman someday, and enjoys having fun with his teammates.
Banks knows what he likes and what he wants, and he speaks easily of those things. One thing he wanted while starring in three sports at East Webster High School was to come to Mississippi State, regardless of whether he received a scholarship offer.
“I would’ve walked on here,” Banks said. “Coach (Dan) Mullen, he could take my scholarship right now, I’d still walk on.”
That’s an unlikely scenario. Banks, a junior cornerback, has more than earned his scholarship during his career, especially this year. He’s become one of the elite cornerbacks in the SEC, and perhaps the nation.
In seven games, the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder has recorded five interceptions, which ties for second in the nation. Banks’ 13 passes defended ties for first, and he also has eight pass break-ups.
This from a kid who didn’t receive a lot of attention from major programs. That was a standout quarterback/defensive back/kick returner for East Webster, a Class 1A school, where he also played baseball and basketball.
To hear Banks tell it, he almost didn’t last at MSU. During his first set of preseason two-a-days in 2009, he nearly quit and went home to focus on becoming a patrolman.
“I come from a little 1A high school, I hadn’t never really worked like that,” he said. “Coach Mullen, coach (Matt) Balis, they pushed us hard, pushed us to our limit. I about packed it up, and I almost left, but I talked to my family.
“Coach Mullen wasn’t going to let me leave, because I was just a baby on campus.”
Going nowhere
Senior safety Charles Mitchell isn’t convinced Banks was really going to leave, but he spoke to him at the time.
“Don’t worry about that,” Mitchell told Banks. “It’s football, you’re going to get yelled at.”
As he recalled that story, Mitchell said, “When he was at East Webster, the coach probably didn’t say nothing to him. When he got here, coach (Melvin) Smith gave him a reality check. To me, it looked like it helped him.”
Since that time, Banks has formed a tight bond with his secondary mates, like Mitchell, fellow cornerbacks Corey Broomfield and Louis Watson – all of them. He’s had his teammates over to his place to ride horses – don’t ask Broomfield how that went for him – and there’s a mutual understanding that the players can call each other day or night when problems arise.
“It ain’t just the corners and safeties, it’s this team,” Banks said. “We’re all bundled together. I’ve never been close to a group of guys like I am to these guys.”
The MSU secondary has become a stellar group on the field, with Banks leading the way. He made seven interceptions over his first two seasons, and he now has 12 for his career, four shy of Walt Harris’ school record. Three of Banks’ picks have been returned for touchdowns.
Banks feels he’s playing at a higher level this season.
“I feel like I’m much better as a football player right now, because coach Mullen, if you’re a player, he’s going to call you out,” Banks said. “He’s going to make you want to be better. He called me out all last week. He’s called me out a couple of times. That pushes you to want to be better.”
If he keeps it up, Banks could continue his career at the next level. If not, well, he’s still keen on being in law enforcement.
“I ain’t going to say I want to be lazy, it’s a hard job, but most of them all they do is ride around in cars,” he said. “I ain’t a lazy guy, but I just want to make the world a better place.”
brad.locke@journalinc.com