COVINGTON, Ga. — He wouldn’t call it waffling, but Alcovy’s Jalen Banks was still calculating and evaluating his college decision right up to the last minute Tuesday.
With well over a dozen college football scholarship offers from NCAA Division I, down, Banks had whittled his choices to Presbyterian College (South Carolina), and two Georgia schools, Shorter University and Berry College.
When it was time to make his decision, Banks reached under the table he was sitting at, pulled out and slipped on a blue and white Presbyterian hat, smiled and exhaled a sigh of relief.
He said he first made his choice Saturday, but even before that, he opted out of following the first Wednesday in February signing day crowd to make sure he was examining every aspect of each of his options.
That’s just how Banks, a National Honors Society student with close to a 4.0 GPA, rolls.
“I went back and looked at all of the pros and cons of each school, and when it came down to it, it was the academics that really drove me to choose Presbyterian,” Banks said. “It’s because they offered me the best program for my major. I also took the extra time because I wanted to see all my financial aid packages first. As big of a decision as this is, I really wanted to not rush into it, but take my time with my parents and my family and really make sure I was making the right decision.”
Chris Edgar, Banks’ coach for three of the last four years at Alcovy, isn’t surprised at the meticulous way Banks went about making his choice.
“Jalen, from day one, has been academically minded,” Edgar said. “He’s always been in the books. But he’s also worked very hard at football. I’d have to say the same way he puts his all into academics, he does so for football. I don’t think he’s missed a day of workouts since he’s been at this school. He’s a perennial Iron Tiger in the weight room, and it showed on the field. I don’t think he missed practice ever. That’s the kind of work ethic his parents instilled into him, and that’s what he brought to the team.”
When Banks steps foot onto the Clinton, South Carolina campus, he’ll be doing so as a computer science major with a business minor. He has desires to create his own business, perhaps in the realm of app development.
But his academic pursuits do nothing to deaden his passion to perform at the highest level on the football field. That’s why the 6-foot, 220-pound defensive end already has his sights set on what he needs to do to slot himself into the highest place possible on Presbyterian’s depth chart.
“They’re graduating a lot of people at my position,” he said. “And even the players there tell you that if you come in ready to compete and you do your thing, they’ll play you no matter what grade you are. So it’s a new day, a new chapter, and I’m excited and ready to get to work.”
Banks, no doubt, put in major work for the Tigers in 2018, tallying 57 tackles, 19 of them for losses with nine quarterback sacks to boot. He added a sweet spin move and a more aggressive approach to his rush end repertoire between his junior and senior seasons, and his play didn’t go unnoticed, even when Alcovy played on bigger stages.
For instance, during the Tigers’ trip to then-No. 1 Colquitt County, although Banks’ bunch was on the wrong side of a blowout loss, the commentators who called the live television action repeatedly made mention of Banks’ name as he finished that game with six total tackles, three behind the line of scrimmage, and two sacks.
After that game, Edgar singled Banks out as one of those team examples of the kind of mentality it takes to win.
“He’s been willing to do whatever it takes for the team to be successful,” Edgar said. “We toyed with him being on offense, and he said,’ Coach, if I have to, I’ll do it.’ And that was his main thing — to do whatever helped the success of the team. Ultimately the success of the team didn’t happen, but because of his work ethic and buying into the team, success happened for him individually.”
Commendable in an era where athletes, even in high school, are tempted to look for greener pastures at the first sign of trouble in their current school. But despite all the ups and downs, coaching changes and losses on the field, Banks said he has no regrets about his time spent at Alcovy.
“Being here taught me how to fight against different types of adversity,” Banks said. “That’s the reason why I’m glad I didn’t leave, because the adversity I fought through, it really didn’t just help me in football, it helped me in life. It taught me the importance of mental toughness and to keep going even when things don’t look so good.
“When you’re winning, you’re not really learning as much as when you’re losing. When you’re losing, you have to figure out ways to get better and better yourself so you can get the desired end.”
And for Banks, a signing ceremony complete with his parents, family, coaches, teammates and friends, was the end he was looking for. With just a few more months left before graduation, Banks said he believes he picked a school that’s going to help him fit right in fairly quickly.
“Really, the way the coaches and the players treated me when I went up and visited, it really felt like one big happy family,” he said. “The coaches and players were real transparent with how things were going to be. It felt like home to me, like that’s where I belong.”