Thornton's Jalen Banks is a unique personality. He is a genuine student-athlete. He competes in two sports. He ranks No. 3 in a class of 432. And he wants to study civil engineering in college.Talk about juggling your busy schedule to accommodate classes, homework, practice, games and the recruiting process. Well, Banks has been running ahead of the curve since he received a C in reading as a fourth grader."I went to a private school early and they instilled academics in me," Banks said. "They talked about the challenges of high school. Grades are important but I don't look at it as work. I'm capable of doing it so why not? If I get a B, I get mad at myself. Why can't I do better? Competing in the classroom is like competing in football or track."Banks has worked hard to achieve success at all levels. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound safety has accumulated 10 scholarship offers and the list, which includes schools from the Big Ten, SEC and ACC, is a testimony to his ability to combine academics and football skills.He has offers from Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and Western Michigan. He made unofficial visits to Iowa and Wisconsin last week during spring break. Earlier, he visited Illinois, Northwestern and Michigan State. Since he doesn't plan to commit until after the 2012 season, he can be expected to receive more offers.He hopes one of them will come from Oregon."Oregon is my dream school," he said. "Since I was 7 or 8-years-old, since I began following football and watching games on TV, I have loved Oregon. It's more than the (green and yellow) uniforms. I like the offense, the great players, the playmakers. I enjoy watching them play. I get more involved when I'm watching them. I was excited when they got to the national championship game."No, I'm not disappointed that they haven't offered yet. I have talked to them. They will see me in May. And I'm going to one of their camps in June. Theyll get a chance to evaluate me. I hope they like what they see. If I get a chance, I'd like to go there. But there are other great schools that have opened my eyes. It would be exciting to play in the SEC."But he isn't in a hurry. Coach Bill Mosel, preparing for his 27th season as head coach at the Harvey school, reminds that the recruiting process has accelerated in recent years. Offers are made sooner and sooner, sometimes when athletes are sophomores."I'll sit down with Jalen and his parents after the May evaluation period and see where they are at," Mosel said. "He needs to take visits. I don't want him to have any regrets by committing too early. Kids often renege on their early commitment because they don't take official visits and then find out a school is stockpiling talent at his position. Jalen won't commit before the season. He'll make visits in the fall."
In the meantime, Banks is eager to improve his speed (from 4.5 to 4.4) and demonstrate his leadership skills as one of four captains on a team that hopes to improve on last year's disappointing 6-4 finish. And he wants to win another state championship in track.Last year, Banks ran a leg on the winning 800-meter relay. He hopes to repeat this spring. He also competes in the 100, 200 and another relay. He enjoys track because it helps him to get in shape for football, improves his quickness and squeezes his competitive juices."The great ones are very focused. They know what they want," Mosel said. "When Jalen was a freshman, we talked about how he would like to see himself and he hasn't wavered. His career path hasn't changed."Mosel said Banks "has the opportunity to be the best defensive back we have produced, in a class with Jermaine Hampton," who played at Northern Illinois and with the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL.That's quite an accolade. Traditionally, Thornton is one of the most successful football programs in the state. A few years ago, eight of Mosel's products were competing in the NFL.Banks has played on the varsity since he was a freshman, a rarity in high school and especially at a high-profile school like Thornton. He started as a wide receiver. Midway through his sophomore year, he was moved to safety to fill a void in the defensive secondary. He likely will play safety in college. But if he gets a step faster, he could be moved to cornerback, the toughest position to fill at the college level."He has great feet. He is very fluid. He has good hips, good ball skills and reacts to the ball in the air. He also is very physical and comes up and makes tackles," Mosel said."From day one, I always liked football. It's a fun sport, a contact sport," Banks said. "There is something about hitting somebody or scoring touchdowns that makes it more exciting."Banks grew up in south suburban Hazel Crest and wasn't familiar with Thornton. But he played for the Harvey Colts youth team and attended a state playoff game and was bit by the bug. "From then on, I decided not to go to St. Rita or Marian Catholic," he said."Before I even walked into the school, I became aware of the tradition. Old-timers, the coaches for the Harvey Colts and other people were always talking about the Thornton tradition and the Lou Boudreau Room, where all the trophies and pictures of All-Staters and All-Americans are. Nothing else has to be said. You just look around and you see it and you feel it."His father always told him that, because of his size and footwork, he would be a defensive back. Jalen never objected. He relished the challenge. While others opted for the more glamorous positions such as quarterback, running back or wide receiver, he preferred defense."You get to make plays. You don't have to wait for the ball," he said. "On defense, it's up for grabs, for everybody who is hungry, 11 men flying to the ball. On defense, you can free-wheel to make plays."Banks, who was injured most of his freshman year, realized he had big-time potential early in his sophomore year. He had two interceptions in his first game. But that was only one game, he reasoned. But he stood out in a losing effort against Lincoln-Way East in the state playoff and the proverbial light bulb when on."I made a lot of plays, tackles for loss. I was matched up against (Illinois recruit) Jason Robertson. I didn't give up any big plays. It really made me feel confident, that I can play defensive back at the Division I level. I know I can hit and make tackles," he said.So Banks looks ahead to the 2012 season and the completion of the recruiting process. "I had a dream to be in this position," he said."I like being able to go out and get a feel for things, to meet players and coaches. I appreciate the personal letters. I'm looking for a balance between academics and athletics. I'm looking for a school that will help me excel as a student and as a player. I want a degree to get a guaranteed job."Every school has nice facilities. In the Big Ten, everybody has a big stadium. But do they have people within the program, people to help you get better, strength coaches and position coaches, people to look after you?"Jalen Banks is still looking.