NFL's Atlanta Falcons Sign Linebacker Exonerated in Rape Case

Brian Banks' dreams of playing in the NFL were derailed after a classmate falsely accused him of rape when he was 16

By Jonathan Lloyd
|  Wednesday, Apr 3, 2013  |  Updated 11:13 AM PDT
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Brian Banks: A Long Road to Freedom

AP

Brian Banks works out for the Seattle Seahawks, in Renton, Wash., Thursday, June 7, 2012.

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The former Southern California high school standout linebacker who served five years in prison for a rape he did not commit has signed with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.

Watch: Hidden-Camera Confession That Led to Exoneration

Linebacker Brian Banks, 27, worked out with the Falcons -- the 2012 NFC South champions -- last year. The team continued to watch Banks' progress as he played for the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League.

Banks thanked the Falcons organization for the opportunity and talked about the woman who helped him achieve his goal -- his mother.

"This is beyond me," Banks said. "It's about football, it's about an opportunity, but it is beyond me. My family, my mother who has gone through so much -- she stood by me when I went through hell and back.

"Without her, this wouldn't be happening. She is my inspiration."

Terms of the contract were not immediately available.

"We are pleased to have Brian join our team," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement. "We had a chance to work him out last year and have been monitoring his progress since then. He has worked extremely hard for this chance over the last year and he has shown us that he is prepared for this opportunity. We are happy that Brian will have a chance to live out his dream of playing in the NFL and we look forward to seeing him on the field."

Banks was wearing a sweatshirt with "XONR8" (exonerate) in a California license plate graphic when he signed the contract (view image).

"I want to jump up and go crazy," Banks said.

Banks was a highly touted athlete at Long Beach Polytechnic High School who was recruited by several big-name college football programs, including USC. Banks was 16 when a girl he had known since childhood accused him of rape. He was arrested and, on advice of counsel, pleaded no contest to rape and an enhancement of kidnapping in order to avoid a possible life sentence if tried by a jury.

Banks spent five years in prison, but a hidden-camera confession by his accuser led to his exoneration. Banks' conviction was thrown out in May 2012.

His second-chance road to the NFL first gained momentum when Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who recruited Banks as the Trojans' coach, offered him an opportunity to work out with the team not long after his exoneration. He worked out with several other NFL teams before joined the United Football League.

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