Mindful of his family, Johnthan Banks told his then-girlfriend over a year ago that he was skipping his senior season at Mississippi State and entering the NFL Draft.
“He said, ‘I'm gonna make a better living for you and my son,'” Mallory Banks said Tuesday, when her now-husband accepted the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award as college football's best defensive back.
Only days later, though, Johnthan Banks changed his mind. Several factors played into that decision. More than anything, though, he decided NFL riches would feel empty without Mallory and their son K.J., then only eight months old, nearby.
“My son is a daddy's boy,” Johnthan Banks said. “It's hard for me not being around him. The way I feel about him, and the way he feels about me is unreal.
“I never thought I could care about someone as much as I care about him.”
Johnthan Banks was honored as latest Jim Thorpe winner at a Tuesday banquet at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. He became the award's fourth consecutive winner from the Southeastern Conference.
Banks was a first-team All-SEC selection as a senior. He finished last season with 63 tackles, four interceptions and seven breakups.
He nearly gave up his senior season, though, because of the responsibility he felt to provide for his young family. He was reportedly projected as a fourth-round pick after his junior season.
After Johnthan Banks told Mallory of his initial decision, she noticed he'd become increasingly somber and distant.
“He started having this funny look on his face and started acting weird,” Mallory Banks said. “He wouldn't really talk to me. He wouldn't open up to me.”
Finally, though, Johnthan Banks broke down one night and tearfully confessed he'd changed his mind.
Several of his goals remained unaccomplished. Banks wanted to earn his degree, which he'll now complete this spring.
A Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist as a junior, Banks wanted to win the 2012 award.
He wanted to improve his NFL Draft stock, which has risen so high that he's now widely considered first-round material.
“We talk to guys about that stuff,” said Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. “We have a little rule that says, ‘If you're gonna be first rounder, you should go.'
“If not, the thought is, ‘Hey, come back. Get the security of getting your degree, and increase your chances in the draft.'”
Now, with all those accomplishments completed or nearly completed, the former Mississippi State standout has drastically improved his family's long-term outlook.
“At first, I was kind of upset that he didn't go, because I felt like he was an excellent player,” Mallory Banks admitted. “But now, I'm very, very happy that he stayed. He grew, he learned more, and got better as a football player and a person.”