National Signing Day 2021

Through ups and downs, Paetow's Bankston finds home at Weber State

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 2/3/21

The recruiting process for high school football student-athletes in the Class of 2021 was a difficult one because of a plethora of limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no spring football. Camps were canceled. Official visits were not permitted.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in
National Signing Day 2021

Through ups and downs, Paetow's Bankston finds home at Weber State

Posted

The recruiting process for high school football student-athletes in the Class of 2021 was a difficult one because of a plethora of limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no spring football. Camps were canceled. Official visits were not permitted.

The decision for the next step of their athletic careers was an unforgiving one for those student-athletes, including Paetow senior running back Damon Bankston.

The explosive 5-foot-9, 180-pounder was an electric playmaker during his two seasons as a Panther. In being named Offensive Most Valuable Player in District 10-5A, Division I, this season, Bankston rushed for 1,634 yards and 17 touchdowns and caught nine passes for 71 yards in 10 games.

Still, interest was little, leading to long days and longer nights for the Bankston family.

“It was stressful knowing that you told your child that if he handled his books, he had the talent and someone would see him,” said Bankston’s father, Augustine. “And because of COVID, it slowed up. To see it slow down, it was stressful. I could see it on him. He knew he deserved a lot, and to see him go through that … I could see him doubting if he’d get a scholarship.”

Instead of getting the looks and talks from college coaches that would typically come during spring football following a breakout 2019 junior season in which he ran for 1,087 yards and eight touchdowns with 286 yards and four touchdowns receiving as a backup tailback, Bankston’s recruiting did not heat up until after his senior season in mid-December.

“Watching him almost lose what he worked since he was four years old for, it was painful,” said Bankston’s mother, Joy. “All I could do was just pray. I knew whatever was meant for him will be for him.”

What was intended for Bankston, ultimately, was Weber State. On the verge of accepting that he’d have to begin his college career playing at Blinn College, Bankston received a sudden phone call from Weber State assistant coach Joe Dale about five weeks ago.

The Wildcats did not intend to recruit a running back this cycle, Dale told Bankston. But the coaches had gotten hold of his film, and he was someone they couldn’t let slip by.

Bankston, appreciative of the school’s relentless pursuit and want of him, verbally committed to the NCAA Division I Wildcats of the Big Sky Conference on Jan. 29. Five days later, on National Signing Day, he made it official.

During virtual tours and daily talks with Dale, Bankston was told, among other things, that Weber State coaches liked that he had a lot of skills they couldn’t teach, like speed and vision. In a little more than a month, it was a remarkable emotional rollercoaster for Bankston, as he went from doubtful and frustrated to ecstatic and grateful.

“I thought my athletic abilities were good enough to go to college for free, and it just wasn’t happening the whole process,” Bankston said. “I was down. I was tense. I’d been working my whole life for this. When they called and offered me, I felt a lot came off my chest. I didn’t have a DI full ride (scholarship) until Weber State came, and then they really wanted me at that. That’s when I knew I was home.”

Bankston grew up in Katy. Augustine started training him at four years old, which is when Bankston started playing flag football for Katy Youth Football. Bankston has always been fast. But he was small.

“When he played for the Katy Sun Devils in sixth grade, playing on that circuit against other kids outside of Katy for the first time, and seeing the way he responded to it, I saw he could go against anybody despite his size,” Augustine said.

Bankston spent his first two years of high school at Morton Ranch because Augustine was a coach at the school. When Augustine left, Bankston transferred to Paetow, where he was zoned to.

That move proved vital.

“When we came here and moved and talked about the possibilities, he was on board,” Joy said. “I could see that he would do whatever he could to help this program out. His work ethic totally improved once he came here, from the workouts to the discipline. Going into his junior year, I saw how bad he really wanted it.”

Joy credits the discipline and expectations of Paetow’s program for her son’s success. Paetow head coach B.J. Gotte made Bankston earn his spot. Bankston embraced that.

Like Augustine, it didn’t take long for Gotte to see he had a special athlete.

“He was very unassuming,” Gotte said. “He doesn’t want to be the center of things. He just wants to work. So, when he got here, he just blended in. We were kind of unsure about him. And then in spring football, whenever we got him the ball in space early on, he made a play that was like, ‘OK. Alright. Wow.’ It kind of just blew up from there.”

In public, Bankston is serious, a no-nonsense individual who is quiet and mostly keeps to himself. At home, though, he is a prankster. “Goofy, silly,” Joy said.

When Joy and Bankston’s sister recently went on a trip to the store, Bankston and his younger brother quickly jumped into the back of the car, hid, and rode along, surprising Joy only after she had arrived at the store.

Not everyone gets to see that side of Bankston. But as he assumed more of a leadership role last season, he started to show his sense of humor and let loose a little more around coaches and teammates.

“That was the coolest part,” Gotte said.

Just as Bankston’s recruiting process was frustrating for the family, it was as much so for Gotte, who pled with college coaches to give his star ballcarrier a look.

“I told any coach that would listen, he returns kicks, he returns punts, he can catch the ball out of the slot, he can catch the ball out of the backfield, and, oh yeah, he can run between the tackles,” Gotte said. “He checks every box. Great kid, hard worker, comes from a supportive family. There’s not anything he hasn’t shown he can’t do.”

It was only a matter of time before a school saw what Bankston has always seen in himself.

“Every time I go on the field, I feel I’m the best player,” Bankston said. “I’m so confident because I perfect my craft and I train so hard that I have faith in myself during the games to shine. I’m going somewhere where I have a chance to be a really good player.”

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment