Brian Banks' dream of playing in an NFL game came true Thursday night when walked into the huddle with his Atlanta Falcons teammates in the fourth quarter of a pre-season game -- the high-point of Banks' football career after it was derailed by a false rape accusation.
Banks, a highly recruited star at Long Beach Poly High School more than a decade ago before a classmate accused of him rape, entered the game against Cincinnati at linebacker with about eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Georgia Dome crowd and other players cheered as Banks entered the game. He finished with two tackles in the Falcons' 34-10 loss.
"It was definitely a good feeling. It was one of those things where, coming from where you’re coming from, just to have people support you chasing a dream," Banks said. "These guys have been working on this all their life. From Pop Warner to high school to college, this is what they’ve been doing. For them to accept me, and let me be a part of it, and just get out here and play and show what I can do is more than I can ask for."
A post on Banks' twitter account before the game read, "Game Day. Never thought this day would come. And if it all ended here tonight... Mom, I did it."
"It was awesome," said Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud. "I'm really happy for him. He gets to come out and live his dream. He plays with a lot of energy.
"Going through that and being able to live your dream -- you're going to have all the energy in the world."
Banks had verbally committed to play for coach Pete Carroll at USC in 2002, but ended up spending five years in prison for a rape and kidnapping he did not commit. Banks also spent five years on probation and had to register as a sex offender because of the accusations, which the classmate later recanted.
By the time Banks was exonerated in 2012, he was 26 and Carroll had become the head coach of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks. He offered Banks the opportunity to participate in the team's mini-camp, but Banks eventually landed with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the now-defunct UFL.
He signed with the Falcons, last year's NFC South champions, during the 2013 off-season. The Falcons have three more pre-season games before the team must cut its roster down to 53 players.
Banks maintained his innocence after he was accused of sexually assaulting a classmate in a school stairwell when he was 16 years old, but accepted a plea deal on the advice of his lawyer. Banks said the attorney told him he would face 41 years to life in prison if he did not accept the deal.
Banks' journey to Thursday's NFL debut was made possible by a hidden-camera confession from his accuser, who sent Banks a Facebook friend request after his release from prison. The accuser told Banks she wanted to "let bygones be bygones."
Banks called a private investigator, who elicited the confession from the accuser. Banks was cleared of the charge in May 2012.
As for the accuser, she was ordered to pay a $2.6 million judgement in the case for making a false claim and court-related costs. The judgement recoups a settlement paid to the accuser by the Long Beach Unified School District after she filed a lawsuit.
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