STARKVILLE – Exactly a year prior to Saturday, Johnthan Banks was leading East Webster, a Class 1A high school, to a 62-0 victory over hapless West Oktibbeha.
Against the defending national champion Florida Gators, the Mississippi State freshman free safety found himself on the largest stage possible, with camera flashes popping and an ESPN audience watching.
He had two interceptions and returned them both for touchdowns in the 29-19 loss.
He was the first player in MSU history to score two touchdowns off interceptions in the same game.
Banks’ 100-yard return just before halftime drew MSU to within 13-10. He snagged a Tim Tebow pass that was deflected by cornerback Corey Broomfield and knifed across Scott Field for his first collegiate TD.
The record crowd of 57,178 at Davis Wade Stadium was possibly the loudest sound Banks has ever heard.
“We got a good pass rush and Corey tipped it, and I was just in the right place at the right time,” said Banks, who turned 20 earlier this month.
His 20-yard pick-six in the fourth capped MSU’s scoring.
Banks’ first interception killed a Florida drive that started at MSU’s 7 after Chris Rainey blocked a Heath Hutchins punt. It was only the third interception of the season for Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner.
“It’s special to me,” Banks said, “to do it against one of the best players ever to play the game.”
Racing to the team lead
Banks now has four interceptions to lead the team, having gotten a pair the week before against Middle Tennessee State. This was his third start in place of the injured Zach Smith, and he’s shown he has a knack for finding the football.
“Johnthan’s a guy that did everything at his high school – quarterback, receiver, running back, point guard on his basketball team,” coach Dan Mullen said. “We thought he could be a heck of a wide receiver. We just loved him and thought, you know what, we need that athleticism on the defensive side of the ball right now.”
Banks is a wispy fellow, at 6-foot-2, 170 pounds.
“I really didn’t feel like I was big enough to play D-I football as a freshman,” he said, “but like they say, size don’t mean anything.”
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal