Sept. 18, 2013
RUSTON, La. - According to the National Center for Health Statistics, a 22-year-old male in the United States is approximately 5-foot-10-inches tall and weighs 195 pounds. However, in the tucked-away Mississippi town of Fayette with a population of just over 2,000 people, one kid greatly defied those averages.
That kid was Larry Banks.
Long before sprouting into his current body frame, Larry became a fan of football, as we almost all do, through the television. An avid watcher of the National Football League, his favorite team to cheer for was the New York Giants. So as a kid he decided to lace them up and give the sport a try.
Junior high came around and Larry was starting to surpass his classmates in the height and weight column.
Then high school came around and it was like a scene from "Honey I Blew up the Kid." What seemed like an overnight transformation for Larry, he woke up to suddenly find himself destined to be an offensive lineman with measurements of 6-foot-4-inches and 345 pounds, easily making him the largest one in the family.
Few kids his size existed in Fayette, and even fewer ever went on to play college football. With the assistance from his high school football coaches, his mom Flora and the other four battlers on the line of scrimmage with him on Friday nights, getting to the next level - a Division I team - was something he was determined to do.
"High school was a learning process," Banks said. "It taught me some lessons to help me develop my game to get to the next level. My o-line coach in high school always told me that playing o-line means you carry the weight of the team. We are all one heartbeat."
Larry ended up graduating from Jefferson County in 2009 after garnering all-state, all-region and all-metro honors on top of being named his team's Offensive Lineman of the Year, but he was forced to postpone his dream a little longer.
He found his way one hour east to Copiah-Lincoln Community College where he reunited with fellow Mississippian, friend and offensive lineman of a similar stature - 6-foot-6-inch, 330-pound Oscar Johnson - for the next two years.
"I've been knowing [Oscar] for years," Banks said about their relationship. "We played against each other all through high school. We became close in junior college. He's like a brother to me. We always stuck together through the good times and bad."
Larry and Oscar paved the way for Co-Lin to average over 175 rushing yards per game in 2010 en route to the South Division Championship and a 9-2 record.
Suddenly, the massive duo found themselves being courted by Division I schools with the hope of continuing being side by side on the offensive line once more. That opportunity came in the form of Louisiana Tech in December of 2010.
"We agreed that we saw something special in Louisiana Tech and it felt like home," Banks said. "We were like, `we are going to once again put on the helmets, lace up the cleats and play together.'"
Larry had finally achieved his dream, and even though his partner in blocking has now finished his Bulldog career and moved on to attempt to make an NFL roster, when offensive line coach Matt Moore was hired by new head football coach Skip Holtz this past January, he was more than happy to have a player of Larry's size and capabilities on his line.
"[Larry's] built like an oak tree," Moore said. "He has big parts. I had an old coach that used to say `he's got big parts.' [He has] big ankles, big wrists. He is one of those guys that is going to push through the bruises. He is a tough kid. He is a kid that is hungry to learn and really hungry to be a good football player."
Even the strongest of oak trees, though, can fall, and that was the case two years ago in Larry's first ever game as a Bulldog. It just so happened to be during a tropical storm in the heart of his Magnolia state.
The Mississippi native was down in a stance ready to pass block on the puddle-filled turf of Carlisle-Faulkner Field at M.M. Roberts Stadium at Southern Miss, when his shoulder became partially torn.
"I played one snap against Southern Miss and did not play anymore because of the injury," Banks said. "I tried to come back later on in the season, probably the second to last game, but I did not get in because I re-tweaked it pretty bad.
"What I remember about that game was the atmosphere, going back to my home state and wanting to really beat Southern Miss that year just to prove a point that we felt like we were the underdog. And I saw that we have some diehard fans."
The following season, LA Tech produced arguably the best offensive line ever assembled in the program's history.
They kept then quarterback Colby Cameron off the turf to pass at will to Quinton Patton and an array of wide receivers. They parted Red Seas for running backs Kenneth Dixon and Tevin King to break numerous program and NCAA records.
Larry recovered from injury and played in all 12 games that season, and before he lines up at left guard to start the 2013 campaign, what cannot be forgotten is him being one of 12 current Bulldogs to have already earned his college degree - a feat he officially achieved at winter commencement March 2 of this year.
"I was very proud of him and so thankful too because I was the first one to get a college degree," Larry's mom, who was a school teacher herself, said of her son's achievement. "With my family, I wanted it to continue with my children. His brother has already completed college and he flew down and we drove over to watch Larry graduate.
"Of course Larry getting a scholarship made it even easier for me as a single parent at that time so I was very proud of him. I am proud of him being determined. And I am very honorable and thankful to God that it happened."
Soon enough, Flora will be winding her way along Highway 22 until she hits Interstate 20 West with Joe Aillet Stadium in her sights.
"My plans are to come to all of the home games," Flora declared. "I may have missed one home game last year. I pray for every game that we win. [Even if] I am at home, I am praying."
Long ago, Larry Banks was just a kid giving football a try. Little did he know that he himself would one day don a red and blue jersey much like his favored New York Giants, and as sort of a giant.
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