Once behind bars for a crime he did not commit, Atlanta Falcons' Brian Banks is thankful to be back in the game.
The rookie linebacker, 28, picked up two tackles in his first NFL pre-season game against the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday, which he called "one of the best moments of my life."
A rising high school football star from southern California who had been granted a full scholarship to play in the renowned Division 1 program at University of Southern California, Banks' career was brought to a sudden standstill by a wrongful kidnap-rape conviction in 2002 that put the then-17-year-old behind bars for five years.
Banks was then placed on probation for five years after his 2007 release. The restrictions outlined that he had to register as a sex offender and could not live within 2,000 feet from any school or park. He also had to keep a GPS device around his ankle to ensure that he did not leave the state.
Banks was exonerated in May 2012 after his accuser contacted him on Facebook and recanted her story. He was drafted by the Falcons less than one year later.
"I may never get the answers as to why I was supposed to go through what I went through but I know that I am here today and I remain unbroken," Banks said after his conviction was reversed. "I will take this opportunity to be the best person I can be in the world and to show people that no matter what you go through, there is light at the end of the tunnel."
While it remains to be seen whether Banks has what it takes to make the team's final roster, he has so far proven his ability to persevere, no matter what life throws at him.
"Based on the hope that he has shown all of us, I wouldn't bet against Brian Banks," ESPN's NFL analyst Mark Schlereth said.