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Banks pursuing NFL dream with 49ers
Former top prep recruit spent five years in prison for rape he didn't commit

  • Brian Bans is participating in 49ers rookie minicamp this week. He also took part in the Seahawks' minicamp. ((AP Photo/Ted S. Warren))

Exonerated from a crime he did not commit, Brian Banks arrived at 49ers headquarters Monday, hoping against the odds to reclaim his NFL dream.

Banks, at the belated age of 26, is getting a tryout during rookie camp at the team's Santa Clara facility. The middle linebacker gets three days to show the 49ers staff a flicker of the talent that once made him a prized recruit.

That was a decade ago, before a high school classmate accused Banks of raping her during summer school. By the time she recanted her story to a private investigator, Banks had spent five years behind bars and another five as a registered sex offender with an electronic monitoring bracelet around his ankle.

Now he is trying to make up for lost time.

"I lost everything: my hopes, my dreams, my entire world," Banks wrote on his website, brianbanks.org. "I am on a mission to take my life back."

The 49ers, who have an open roster spot, are among a handful of NFL teams willing to take a look at the 6-foot-2, 240-pound free agent. They will do so in private: Their practices this week are closed to the media. They also will do so without coach Jim Harbaugh, who is in Peru building houses as part of a church program.

Banks is a long shot for an invitation to training camp, but his underdog quest already has the look of a Hollywood feature -- "The Shawshank Redemption" meets "Rudy."

As a junior at Long Beach Polytechnic High, Banks was good enough to merit recruiting attention from UCLA, USC and other top programs.

Then, in 2002, classmate Wanetta Gibson said Banks raped her. Rather than take the case to trial and risk a sentence of 41 years to life in prison, Banks accepted a plea deal to a lesser charge.

"I was 17 making this decision. A decision I couldn't really make," Banks said during a recent appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

Banks pleaded no contest to one count of rape and spent five years and two months in prison. Upon being released, his sex-offender status prohibited him from leaving Los Angeles County without permission. He has called that experience "humiliating" and said living as a sex offender in the free world was in some ways worse than prison.

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