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Tavian Banks Gets His Kicks in Iowa

October 2, 1997

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) _ Iowa’s Tavian Banks always dreamed about winning the Hermann Trophy, not the Heisman.

``I love soccer,″ says Banks, the nation’s leading rusher. ``If the University of Iowa had a soccer team, I would love to play.″

The Hermann Trophy goes to the nation’s top college soccer player. Banks won’t be winning that. The Heisman, however, is another matter.

After four games, Banks has established himself as one of the nation’s premier football players. He is averaging 209 yards a game and is tied with UCLA’s Skip Hicks in scoring with 13 touchdowns.

Some have suggested that Banks is the top Heisman candidate after Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning.

``I’m not really thinking about the Heisman or anything like that,″ Banks said. ``I’m just out there running behind my blocks. I’m just trying to win the Big Ten championship.″

Banks and the No. 11 Hawkeyes (4-0 overall, 1-0 Big Ten), will be tested this Saturday when they play at No. 7 Ohio State. If he gains 165 yards, Banks would become just the eighth player in NCAA Division I-A to reach 1,000 yards in five games.

Banks started playing organized football in seventh grade in his hometown of Bettendorf, but he was kicking a soccer ball long before that.

Near the end of high school in 1992, he had a tough choice: accept a college scholarship for soccer or play football. He went on soccer recruiting visits to South Carolina, Virginia, Clemson, Creighton and Wisconsin.

Fred Schmalz, the soccer coach at Evansville, was the Midwest Regional Olympic Development coach who was looking for players for the U.S. Olympic team. Banks was a sure bet, he said.

``He is an unbelievable athlete,″ Schmalz said. ``He was so strong, so balanced, and his acceleration from zero to close to full speed was so phenomenal.

``He can stop within a step,″ he said. ``He stops and then restarts and he’s at full speed again within a step or two. That’s a special athletic quality _ name your sport.″

Football coaches, including Iowa coach Hayden Fry, wanted him just as badly.

``Coach (Dennis) Erikson at Miami said he was the best back in America,″ recalled Bettendorf High School coach Merv Habenicht. ``Nebraska wanted him real bad. And the University of Washington, too. Those three head coaches all visited this school.″

It was no wonder. Banks has been timed in 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

``Every time I told somebody that, they said I was lying,″ Habenicht said.

Banks credits soccer for developing his peripheral vision and ability to make cuts without losing speed. He says carrying the football is ``10 times easier″ than dribbling a soccer ball.

For three years, he came off the bench as the backup to Sedrick Shaw, who became Iowa’s career rushing leader last season and is now with the New England Patriots.

When Banks played, he played well. He averaged 7.3 yards a carry as a freshman, 6.1 yards as a sophomore and 4.4 yards last year.

``Sedrick knew a lot about the game,″ Banks said. ``He taught me a lot when I was on the sideline and being the backup.″

Banks also said he did not think much about transferring to another school.

``I’ve got a great group of friends here and we always kept close,″ he said. ``I think this is a team that we’ve built and this is the season we’ve been waiting on, right here.″

He showed fans right away what to expect this season. On the first play from scrimmage in the first game against Northern Iowa, Banks zipped 63 yards untouched down the sideline on a fake reverse.

The following week against Tulsa, he set a school record and Kinnick Stadium mark with 314 yards while scoring four touchdowns.

Banks, who has seven runs of more than 30 yards so far, began the season No. 20 on Iowa’s career rushing list but is now seventh. Another 442 yards and he’ll pass Tony Stewart to become the Hawkeyes’ No. 2 leading runner.

``You don’t have to give him too many opportunities,″ Fry said. ``He’ll turn a bad play into a good play for us. He’s just a great, great athlete. He gets better in each ball game.″

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