Johnthan Banks has lined up against some of the best football players in the country. Mississippi State's junior cornerback has intercepted Tim Tebow (twice) and returned it for a touchdown (also twice). He's covered multiple receivers selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. He started SEC games in his first year on campus and in both his seasons he's lined up against the teams that went on to win the National Championship.
But now, on the second day of fall camp at MSU, Banks can't stop thinking about the last guy who caught a pass on him. In 11-on-11 drills this morning, a true freshman, 6-foot-5 freshman receiver Joseph Morrow, caught a deep pass on the far sideline over Banks.
"With that boy catching that ball on me right there, that was on my mind the whole practice. I mean, that boy is a freshman, I'm a junior. I should never let that happen," Banks said. "It happened."
At 6-foot-2, Banks is the tallest corner on the team, certainly the one with the longest arms. But when freshman quarterback Dak Prescott tossed the ball up, Morrow leaped in the air and caught it right over Banks.
Contact was minimal as the players were not wearing pads, an NCAA rule making sure players get acclimated in the first two days before donning all the gear.
Tomorrow, shoulder pads come on and Banks plans to remind Morrow who the veteran is.
"I'm looking to go and stalk Joe Morrow, just let him know what's up," Banks said. "I'm ready to come out here tomorrow and the first person I'm gonna call out is Morrow. It's on with me and Morrow.
"I like Morrow, though," Banks added.
It may not be malicious, but it's personal.
Banks considers MSU's secondary to be one of the best in the SEC and he said that while he hates getting beat by a freshman, it speaks to the development the receivers at MSU have made when they do well the Bulldog defensive backs. He said it helps them to have confidence.
Confidence, by the way, is something Banks is not lacking. The previously unknown and under-recruited East Webster (Miss.) do-it-all star spent time in practice yesterday returning punts, saying, "I feel at home back there."
"I think I'm pretty dynamic with the ball in my hands," said Banks, who returned punts for East Webster in high school. "Everytime I had the ball in my hands I did something with it. I feel pretty comfortable with the ball in my hands. I think Coach [Mullen], he trusts me enough. If he didn't trust me he wouldn't have me returning punts."
Banks went both ways for his high school team, taking most of his team's snaps on offense as well as defense. He's been at defense throughout his time in Starkville, though he wouldn't totally rule out the possibility of playing offense again.
Said Banks, "You never know what Mullen might put out there."
Of course, the more important position is the one he actually plays. Banks enters the fall as the starting left cornerback. He played safety his freshman year, but switched over to cornerback as a sophomore. Some had speculated he could switch back to safety given MSU's depth at corner, but Banks said, "Right now, it's totally off the table."
Banks said that he's seen all the other secondaries in the SEC and he thinks MSU's is just as athletic, strong and deep as any of them. He had high praise for his teammates and said that among the group, "I probably know the least because of how I moved [positions] so much."
Banks admitted he has one downfall at corner, but thinks he's one of the best when he gets it right.
"Sometimes I lose my focus and just zone out sometimes. But when I'm focused, it's gonna be hard to catch balls on me," Banks said. "I set a high standard for myself. I look to be one of the best in the SEC. I wanna be one of the best, so I gotta go hard out here, defend these guys. How I feel, if I defend these guys, it'll be much, much easier in the game because of the pace Coach Mullen got us going [at]."