The Emory & Henry senior safety developed serious doubts about his football future just after the Wasps completed spring practice. But his indecision had nothing to do with the program.
It was about something much bleaker.
“I just got a call from home saying my sister passed a way in a car wreck,” recalled Banks, still fighting his emotions while describing the situation on Sunday during the team’s media day. “It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with.
“It took a while. I talked with the coaches. I didn’t know if I wanted to play football anymore.
“But through all of that, I found good,” he said. “I got to spend 18 wonderful years with my little sister and no one can ever take that away.”
Banks, who played high school football at Eastside in Coeburn, will enter the field for the first time this fall without his sister cheering him on in the stands.
“She just became my motivation. She was here every home game watching me play. I know the hardest thing going into my senior year is that I know when I walk out of the locker room she won’t be here. And she won’t be here to walk me out on senior night,” Banks said. “But she’s still looking over me. I just carry her everywhere I go and I know she’s looking down on me.”
LEADING BY ACTIONS
Banks is a motivator both on and off the field for the Wasps.
He was second on the team last year in tackles with 78 from his safety position.
Coach Curt Newsome and his staff are looking for big things from their senior leader this year.
“Justin Banks is a great young man. He’s truly a leader on our football team,” Newsome said. “He’s the best player we’ve got in the secondary and he brings a lot to the table.”
The Wasps look to build their defensive unit around Banks in the secondary and preseason All-America pick Josh Fleenor, who had 57 tackles from his defensive lineman position last year.
E&H has seven returning starters from last year’s team that finished 3-7 overall and 1-6 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.
Back is wide receiver Derrick Yates of Abingdon, who compiled 60 receptions for 903 yards and six touchdowns last year as a sophomore.
Fellow wide receiver Jesse Santiago, a senior, also returns. Santiago caught 52 passes for 580 yards and five touchdowns last season.
“We are going to have to get the ball to them,” Newsome noted.
Hunter Taylor is the quarterback assigned to getting the ball to the receivers heading into the season. The sophomore from Summerville, S.C., played in nine games last season, making three starts. He completed 63 of 114 passes for 866 yards with seven touchdowns, also rushing for 343 yards and four touchdowns on 62 carries.
Taylor’s backup will be Jake Sturgill of Abingdon. Sturgill transferred from Virginia-Wise. During his freshman year at Wise, Taylor saw limited action. He completed 20 of 43 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
D-B ALUM PHILLIPS AIMS TO CONTRIBUTE
Former two-sport Dobyns-Bennett star Ivan Phillips is looking to contribute with the Wasps this season.
Phillips, a 2017 D-B grad, played baseball in the spring at Walters State before transferring to E&H to play football.
“I’ve been here since the start of fall camp. I’ve enjoyed it and will continue to enjoy it,” Phillips said.
“Transitioning from baseball to football is a little different. But I think I’m getting there. I just need to keep working hard.”
Phillips is looking to help out E&H at the linebacker position.
“It’s obviously a step from high school to college football. I’ve tried to learn everything since coming into fall camp. There’s a lot, but we’re getting there slowly but surely,” he said.
KICKOFF SET FOR SATURDAY
E&H kicks off the season Saturday with a 1 p.m. game on the road at ODAC rival Ferrum.
The Wasps follow that game with open week before entertaining nonconference foe Methodist in their home opener on Sept. 15. Kickoff at Fred Selfe Stadium is scheduled for 1 p.m.