Minnesota football ‘Banks’ on redshirt freshman cornerback

Aaron Blake

When asked whether he thought redshirt freshman cornerback Trumaine Banks is being picked on lately, Minnesota football coach Glen Mason was quick to answer.

“By the officials, yeah,” Mason said laughing.

Though Banks was the victim of a blatantly incorrect defensive pass interference penalty in the 19th-ranked Gophers’ (9-2, 5-2 Big Ten) 37-34 win over Wisconsin, the officials have not been the only ones singling him out in recent weeks.

“Some teams throw a lot more towards me, and some don’t,” Banks said. “But I take every game expecting to get thrown at because of me being a redshirt freshman out there.”

When team leader Michael Lehan graduated to the NFL last season, Banks jumped on the opportunity to fill the void at cornerback.

The Columbus, Ohio, native earned the starting cornerback job opposite junior Ukee Dozier in spring practice, and he has been a focal point of opponents’ passing attacks all season.

Banks said he learned a lot from Lehan – who was taken in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. Hardly anybody doubted Banks’ ability – he was one of Redzone’s Top 50 Players in the Nation at Eastmoor Academy in Columbus.

But the letters “FR” next to his name on the depth chart might as well be printed in red ink.

“I expect teams to go after me,” Banks said. “So I just try to mentally prepare myself. When you look across the board, you see guys that have been playing Big Ten football for awhile. Then you look over on the right side, and you have a redshirt freshman. I’m not surprised.”

Banks understands he’s going to take his lumps because he is both a freshman and a cornerback. Mason referred to a play in which Banks got beat deep in the heartbreaking 38-35 loss to Michigan.

But the cornerback, his coach and everyone in the secondary are keeping the faith right now, believing that experience and confidence are the best remedy for anyone who is struggling or being picked on the way Banks is.

Banks’ performance might be deceptive because he is picked on so much.

“I think he’s playing pretty darn well, to be honest with you,” Mason said. “A lot of people get beat deep against Michigan. What I like about him is that he keeps coming on back and playing. I think he’s playing better than maybe perception has it.”

Banks knows playing cornerback is somewhat of a thankless job – fans tend to only remember when a cornerback gets beat. He said he knows that it’s the opposing offense’s job to make plays, and sometimes they are going to.

The key, he said, is to outweigh the negative plays with positive plays.

Dozier, who also remembers being fixated on as a freshman, said the trick is to have a short-term memory.

“The thing about cornerback is that it’s real mental and physical at the same time,” Dozier said. “If you let a play bother you, then it’s going to bother you the whole game. You can’t let that carry on.”

Dozier said it’s a challenge to remain focused on every play when one is inexperienced.

It might have been unintentional, but he paused midsentence at an interesting point.

“After you get experience at it and you’re in that situation a lot, you tend to get used to it,” he said. “It doesn’t really bother Ö me.”

Banks doesn’t yet have much experience, but he is being force-fed rapidly as teams continually key on him.

“If I was a coach, and I saw the opposing team had a redshirt freshman cornerback, I’d probably go at him too just to see what he’s made of,” safety Eli Ward said. “Once he gets his confidence back and really realizes how good he is, I think he’ll be a great player.