Charles Johnson was coaching at Joppatowne when, at an offseason seven-on-seven camp at Edgewood, then-Rams coach John Siemsen told him to keep an eye out for Deonte Banks.
“I wasn’t really concerned about some ninth grader at the time,” Johnson, who later took over Edgewood’s program before Banks’ junior season, remembers thinking. “But he told me [Banks] could be the program’s next high Division I guy or professional football player.”
Edgewood hasn’t been known as a pipeline for top football players, but Banks became the program’s first graduate to be drafted to the NFL on Thursday when the cornerback out of the University of Maryland was taken by the New York Giants with the 24th pick in the first round.
Siemsen saw the potential early on when Banks transferred in from St. Frances midway through his freshman year. He saw a quiet confidence and perpetual hunger that would transform into the uber-physical defensive back bound for East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Banks became the first Division I signee Siemsen coached, although it lasted for only one year. Siemsen had previous stops at Patterson, Dundalk and Kenwood before a three-year stint at Edgewood, where he eventually transitioned into an administrative role.
But in his final season as coach, he got an up-close glimpse at a future pro.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Siemsen quipped. “But his fluidity, the way he moved on the field, was effortless. He didn’t have that awkward ninth grade year. He just moved. It was awesome to watch and he was a pick-six machine.”
Edgewood’s offensive coordinator, Brooks Kimbrough, was particularly struck by his awareness on the field coupled with his competitive nature, calling him “a man amongst boys.”
“My son [Marquez played at Bel Air and] would come home and tell me,” Kimbrough said, “He’d be like, ‘Dad, our linebacker said he was there but he blinked for a split second and Deonte was already 20 yards down the field.”
It didn’t take long for Edgewood to become a revolving door for college recruiters.
Johnson remembers one in particular. It was one of the first low-major Division I programs to show interest, sending a coach to visit the Harford County school. Johnson called Banks out of class to meet him. It was the dead of winter, so Banks was outfitted in his heaviest coat and baggiest sweatpants.
The coach, who Johnson declined to name, looked at Banks and asked plainly, “Do you lift weights? I can’t tell if you lift at all.”
Banks has long been known for his work ethic in the weight room — late nights and early mornings pleading for a key to enter. His businesslike approach notably started with lifting weights as a middle schooler in the back of a barbershop or running alone at Montebello Hill in Baltimore.
When that college coach failed to distinguish his sculpted frame, Johnson told Banks that the next time a coach is in the building, he’d better wear the tightest muscle shirt he owns to avoid any more confusion about Banks’ dedication to his craft.
“I noticed his senior year,” Johnson said, “this kid has a body that a senior in college would have.”
When the next coach visited, Siemsen remembers Banks wearing “the tightest outfit I’ve ever seen.”
The coach asked Banks to stand up from his chair in Siemsen’s office. He pulled out his phone in awe and asked to take a picture.
If nothing else, that coach was well aware Banks worked out. He told the three-star recruit on the spot he was exactly the caliber of player they were looking for.
But it wasn’t Maryland, the school Banks set his sights on his entire football life.
The Terps started showing interest the summer before Banks’ senior year. They were nosy, too, frequently asking Johnson for updates on which other schools were visiting Edgewood or inquiring about who else offered him.
“The funny thing with Maryland is, I think they offered him a scholarship but nobody knew,” Johnson said. “Maryland called me and said, ‘Coach, we need to know. Deonte hasn’t told us anything but we need to know, is he interested in coming to Maryland?’”
Johnson was bewildered. “You want him!?” he replied. Johnson called Banks to let him know the Terps were ready for him to sign. Banks couldn’t find a pen fast enough, committing on June 23, 2018.
It was the realization of his first of two dreams. The second came to fruition Thursday night with a phone call from general manager Joe Schoen in the Giants war room.
Banks stood in front of his TV. His closest kin occupied the room behind him. With black sunglasses shading the emotion in his eyes and his fingers interlocked atop his head, Banks reveled in the moment he long believed would come.
“I went back and told John Siemsen,” Johnson said, “‘You were the first one to tell me about him.’ I said, ‘John, I remember one time I was at your school and you pointed to Deonte and said, “Charles, that’s gonna be our next big-time ballplayer.”’”