By Gabriel Stovall
TYRONE, Ga. — Sometimes when a top shelf high school football recruit cites “educational opportunities” as their first reason for picking a school, you may doubt that recruit’s authenticity.
Don’t do that with Korey Banks.
The 6-foot speedster and rising senior wideout from Sandy Creek High committed to North Carolina this past Tuesday. In doing so he spurned offers from the likes of Jim Harbaugh, the newly minted head football coach at storied Michigan, as well as schools such as Arizona, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Wisconsin — other schools in his top five.
Banks had high praise for those places, but as he talked about his Tar Heel selection for primarily academic reasons he did so, backed with a heartfelt story.
“I want to major in pharmacy,” Banks said. Straight face, no hesitation. Almost as if he’d been chomping at the bit to tell someone about it. Perhaps he has — as far back as his middle school football days.
“I had a brother who died from cancer,” Banks said. “And since then, I’ve always wanted to go into medicine and things like that.”
Banks’ brother Khamari was two years old when he passed away. Banks was just finishing up his sixth grade year in football. He remembers his brother’s fight intricately, and he also calls it one of his chief sources of motivation.
“I remember when he was battling through it, there were so many medicines all over the house,” Banks said. “And then when I was younger I dealt with a lot of asthma and I had to take a lot of medicine. So I just remember seeing all of the medicine everywhere growing up. I don’t know how to describe it. It all just made me very interested in helping people deal with medical trauma.”
If pharmacy is what Banks wants to make his post-football career, North Carolina is as good a place to do it as any. The school’s pharmacy program is perennially ranked among the top five in the nation. And while, on the football side of things, the Tar Heels’ pass-happy offense suits Banks’ considerable skills at wideout, his coach at Sandy Creek is not surprised to hear Banks talk first about the off-the-field perks of his future college.
“First of all, I know one of the things that’s most important to him is family, and I think that was reiterated by what he mentioned first about his choice,” said Sandy Creek coach Chip Walker. “With him over the last four years, I’ve seen definite growth, not just in the football player, but in Korey Banks, the whole person. And just the way he responds to people, from what he does in the classroom, he competes in the classroom the way he does on the field.
“He hates not making a grade that’s not an A or a B.”
To be sure, Banks is also a heck of a football player. His 34 catches and 542 receiving yards give him the distinction of being Sandy Creek’s top returning receiver. He’s a speedster, clocking in at 4.26 seconds in his most recent 40-yard dash.
He’s also improved over time on the other side of the ball as a defensive back. But Banks made it clear that he’s looking forward to catching passes rather than breaking them up.
“North Carolina is always throwing the ball,” Banks said. “I’m definitely going there to play receiver. I feel like I can play a big time role in their offense. It just all came down to the best fit and what most made me feel at home.”
Between senior signal caller Marquise Williams and rising junior Mitch Trubisky, the Tarheels threw for 3,527 yards, although it was Williams who accounted for 3,068 of those yards along with 21 touchdowns to just nine interceptions while guiding North Carolina to a 6-7 2014 season that culminated with a 40-21 loss to Rutgers in the Quick Lane Bowl.
But it wasn’t all just about education and scheme for Banks. North Carolina was the school that recruited him the hardest and most consistently, Banks said.
“They weren’t the first school to offer, but they’ve always been pursuing me hard since the 10th grade,” he said. “If a coach texts you good morning and always wants to know how you’re family is doing, and Sunday through Saturday doesn’t miss a day checking on you, it definitely shows you that they really want you. And I said earlier in the recruiting process that I’d go to the school that wants me the most, and North Carolina has proven to be the school that wants me the most.”
Walker, who’s seen his fair share of top athletes go on to Division I football scholarships during his 11-year stint at three-time state champion Sandy Creek — including current Detroit Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson who went to a run-oriented offense at Georgia Tech — says Banks’ stance — not just chasing after the marquee names — is the one he encourages his kids to take when deciding where to go to college.
“That’s one of the things we talk about with our kids all the time,” Walker said. “What’s going to be the good fit for you? Not necessarily whether it’s a big name like an Alabama, Michigan, Georgia or whatever name is hot at the time. One thing I’ve always told our guys is that you need to go where you are their number one guy.”
And don’t expect Banks to be that guy headlining the commitment flipping watch come National Signing Day in February. Banks said he’s glad to put this piece of his senior year to rest so that he can focus on leaving Sandy Creek the right way.
“It’s definitely a relief now,” he said. “Now I’m just trying to enjoy the time I have with the rest of these guys on my team. We’re on a grind right now. We’re focused in on the season and we’re ready to win a state championship. That’s my main focus now. We’ve got the tools, and we’re ready to walk out of here on top.”