RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Not many student-athletes in Rio Rancho have had the opportunity to play on two state championship teams. Rio Rancho High School’s Keshawn Banks, who played on the Rams’ 2016 state basketball champ and then the 2016 state football titlist the following fall, is one of them.
He’s the stepson of an original Rams football player, Gary Allison (Class of 1999), who not only scored a touchdown in the school’s first
victory (13-6 at Tucumcari on Sept. 4, 1998), but also tallied a TD in the Rams’ first-ever District 5AAAA victory (9-6 vs. Sandia on Oct. 17, 1998); Jacinda Baker is his mother.
Now a sophomore starting defensive lineman for San Diego State, and in town for the holidays after his Aztecs whipped Central Michigan in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 21, Banks sat down with the Observer to talk about his D-1 experiences so far.
What’s the San Diego State experience been like for you? Honestly, nothing but positive. There’s a lot of aspects of my life where I feel like I’ve grown, not only in football but who I am as a person, a student and a man. … I’m happy I’m there and I’m happy in my decisions to get there.
How long did it take your teammates and other students to realize New Mexico is a state, that you didn’t speak Spanish, and how important is it for you and (former Manzano standout) Jordan Byrd to represent the 505 in a good life? It took quite a while to get rid of those stereotypes. I do speak a little Spanish. It’s important for me and Jordan to put a positive foot out for New Mexico, because not a lot of people know where it is and not a lot of people come out of here. I think it’s important for us to do our part and do what we can do to help future guys who try to make it out of here.
When you go to a big school like that — you were a big star here, but everybody there is a star. And you got to play in every game as a freshman. What was it like at practice, compared to Dave Howes’ practices at RRHS? I think it was pretty good. I think coach Howes did a great job in high school, implementing a college-style formula for the program and I think that helped me transition to college. Playing for coach (Rocky) Long is very different from high school: It’s a lot more intensive and difficult, but it’s good.
Given that, what was the biggest adjustment that you had to get adjusted to? Probably just the amount of time I have to put into football; trying to balance that and school is definitely way harder than it was in high school. Coming in on Sundays, which I never had to do; playing on Saturdays, which I never had to do; it’s just a lot more time, a lot more film, a lot more study, a lot more practice.
How well did the academics here at RRHS help prepare you for SDSU and the academics? I think this is a pretty good academic high school, as far as highly ranked in the state, and coming from a big high school like this and to go to a big university like that — I did well in school this semester and my grades were good, so I think (RRHS) prepared me well.
Here at Rio Rancho, your longest road trip was probably a few hundred miles, like going to Clovis, and now you’re sometimes going thousands of miles — what’s that like and what’s the coolest non-SDSU stadium to play in? It’s fun, (but) at the same time, I don’t like traveling; I don’t like flying. But it’s fun going to see different environments you haven’t been to. The funnest is probably Hawaii, though: That was a fun, energetic stadium — just the Poly coach and the Hawaiian coach was very interesting, so it was cool seeing people like that and playing against people like that.
Have you gotten to play at UCLA or USC yet? We played UCLA this past season; we went to the Rose Bowl. That was a cool experience, too. Just the history of playing in a stadium like that; it was surreal. We ended up beating them.
When did you start playing football? I started playing when I was 7 for YAFL teams here; I played for West Mesa, and then from sixth to eighth grade, I played for Volcano Vista, and that was where I was supposed to go (to high school), but some things occurred and I ended up here — and I’m happy I came here.
Is there anything you miss from the high school experience? Probably the amount of fun high school sports was; college sports has a tremendous amount of fun to it, but it’s a little bit more of a business and it adds a lot of stress. In high school, I was able to play stress-free; I’m happy with college — it brings me a lot of fun and joy — but I do miss that non-stress factor of playing in high school.
Do you miss playing basketball? Sometimes, but I don’t think I was meant for basketball. … We have a little rec center on campus, so we go there sometime to mess around, but I don’t like to go too serious because I don’t want to get hurt doing something I’m not supposed to be doing.
Who was your guy or team that you rooted for — who you had a poster in the bedroom — when you were growing up? Ohio State. My stepdad is from Columbus, and he was so active in my life when I was young. … I appreciate the team, but I’m an Aztec.
Who do you model yourself after — like an Aaron Donald? I admire a lot of players’ games, and I respect what they do, but I don’t aspire to be like anybody else. I’m just trying to be the best version of myself that I can be and see how far that takes me.
What would you recommend to other potential D-1 football players now playing high school football? Just look out for yourself and have the best intentions for yourself. Understand that it’s a business; when you get to college, the coaches definitely have your best intent, your best interest. … Just have the best intentions for yourself: Trust yourself and trust your gut.
Have you decided on a major yet? Communications with a sociology minor.
Where do you see yourself in five years? God willing, I’m playing some football in the NFL professionally, but if that doesn’t work out, I’ll have a degree and be educated.