Redskins' Brandon Banks, reunited with childhood friend John Wall and providing big returns

The Redskins' return game has been looking up ever since Brandon Banks was signed from the practice squad.
The Redskins' return game has been looking up ever since Brandon Banks was signed from the practice squad. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 11, 2010; 11:58 PM

On the morning of May 17, Brandon Banks awoke uncertain of his future, and not just in football. A motherless son raised solely by his father, he was the father of his own little girl, not yet 4 months old. A kid unused to trouble, he had spent the previous five months staving it off, because police in Manhattan, Kan., had accused him of abusing the mother of his daughter.

And then that morning, the Washington Redskins offered him a job, or at least a tryout for one: Wide receiver, kick returner, catalyst. Because 5-foot-7, 145-pound, undrafted wide receivers aren't expected to make as much as a slight impact, even the most ardent Redskins fans shrugged at the ramifications. But Banks, 22, understood them all too well.

"I could be sitting at home pushing carts or something," Banks said.

The following night, in a television studio in Secaucus, N.J., an NBA executive pulled from an envelope a card bearing the logo of the Philadelphia 76ers. Even casual basketball fans understood what this meant: The 76ers had just been awarded the second pick in the upcoming draft, and the Washington Wizards - the only team in the annual draft lottery whose name had not yet been called - were awarded the right to select John Wall.

Instantly, Banks, long-shot receiver, sent Wall, sure-thing point guard, a text message: We're both going to be in Washington.

"Amazing," Banks said. "One of my best days."

"Having a friend that you grew up with that reached his dream the same year you did? In the same city?" Wall said. "It was great for both of us."

When Wall plays for the Wizards - something he has done sporadically during his rookie season because of nagging injuries - he is what he was expected to be: The team's most dynamic force, an up-and-coming star around which a franchise could be rebuilt. When Banks plays for the Redskins - something he has done in every game since he was signed from the practice squad in October - he is what only he and a scant few others expected him to be: the team's most dynamic force, a game-changing kick and punt returner so quick he rarely takes a direct hit, but so small his little sister turns away from the television when he drops back to receive a kick.

"He's so little," Gabby Mayo said. "I'm scared someone's going to hurt him."

Banks and Wall, 20, grew up in similar circles and similar circumstances. When Banks starred in football at Garner High, just outside Raleigh, N.C., Wall would go to the games just to watch him. When Wall left Garner and ended up at Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, Banks kept tabs on him from afar. Wall's freshman season at Kentucky coincided with Banks's senior season at Kansas State.

"High school, middle school, whatever - he was always one of the best players, no matter his size," Wall said. "Just so fast."

They are linked, too, in one other way. Wall grew up without his father, who spent much of Wall's youth in prison before died. Banks grew up without his mother, who, records show, has a history of criminal charges - a litany of misdemeanor drug cases, suspended sentences, the odd night in jail, probation - that date back nearly 20 years.

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