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June 23, 2014

WELCH COLUMN: Banker ends roller coaster season on high note

FAIRMONT — The bright lights of the field had faded away. The roar of the crowd had been drowned out. And Chase Banker had come back to Marion County after playing his final snap of organized football.

He sealed his career the next morning with a Tweet: “Last night made me miss Friday nights 100 times more.”

For a high school football player, Friday nights are the pinnacle of your life.

They offer nervous jitters as a freshman, stepping on to the high school field for the first time. And those same jitters return as a senior, stepping off of it for the final time.

Saturday night at Laidley Field in Charleston for the North-South Football Classic, Chase Banker stepped off of a high school football field for the final time in his high school playing career.

But he went out on a high note, hauling in five passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns, despite his team falling, 46-26.

Prior to the game, Banker said that he needed to prove himself after having a down season, catching just 10 passes for 152 yards a season after leading the Big 10 in receptions with 63 catches while amassing 678 yards.

After the game, he felt that he had done the best he could do.

“I felt like after the game was all done that I proved myself,” Banker said. “When I was talking with one of the reporters, he asked where I was playing college football. I kind of blew his mind when I told him I wasn’t playing college football.”

From the time he’s set foot on a football field or a basketball court, Banker has been known as an athlete, a utility man, if you will. And that fact was what helped East Fairmont’s Bill Haddox, who coached the North All-Star team in the North-South Football Classic, know that Banker was a no-brainer for his team.

“When they asked me about being a coach for the North squad, I didn’t know what schools we were allowed to choose from yet,” Haddox said. “We had 60 schools and only 36 positions. Right off the bat I knew that if we wanted to compete, I knew we needed a kid like Banker. He was one of the first kids I picked.”

While Banker’s pedigree may not have matched up on paper to some of the state’s top players, many of whom have accepted scholarships from Division I and Division II football programs, his competitive edge cannot be matched.

And that’s what fueled Banker through the process of attending the North-South game.

“Coach Haddox said he knew I could play so I really appreciated that. My junior year got my name out there,” Banker said. “And I don’t say this much but I was pretty proud of myself, actually. We were playing the best of the best. Sometimes some of the players around here don’t stand out, but I felt the better the competition the more I come ready to play. I really thought that was big for the county, too.”

When he entered high school, the though of playing in the North-South game never really crossed Banker’s mind.

“I never really thought that far ahead,” Banker said. “I did what I needed to do day by day.”

That was the same mentality that Banker took with him into the 2013 season.

With his North Marion team trying to find a new identity and having found out that its starting quarterback would not play just before the team’s first game, Banker was thrust into the quarterback spot. Weeks later, he was inserted back into the receiver position. And at times, he even lined up as a running back.

“Obviously my goals weren’t met (last season) but you have to do what you can for the team,” he said. “I did what I felt I could on and off the field.”

And then he injured his shoulder midway through the season.

It was a safe bet for the dual-sport athlete that he wouldn’t be getting invited to any All-Star games. And it was something that he was OK with.

“Entering this year I had hopes of playing in the (North-South football game),” Banker admitted. “But I wouldn’t have been wrecked if I didn’t play in it after the season I had.”

But as it was, Haddox called Banker and invited him to play, and he would go on to score two of his team’s four touchdowns in the season finale Saturday.

For Banker, though, he realized that with a little bit of hard work, people can take notice. And they surely took notice of Banker Saturday night.

Now, as the bright lights of Friday night fade away, Banker can rest easy knowing that he did everything he could and left it all out on the field one last time, banging with the best in the state.

“They were all there for a reason — to play football,” he said. “There’s a lot you can take away from this game. Not many people get to play in it and it shows you can play with the best of the best.”

And Banker’s name will surely be remembers as being one of the best of the best.

Email Matt Welch at mwelch@timeswv.com or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.

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