New Mexicans Byrd and Banks shining for Aztecs - Albuquerque Journal

New Mexicans Byrd and Banks shining for Aztecs

San Diego State running back Jordan Byrd, a Manzano High School graduate, says he likes facing New Mexico teams. (Derrick Tuskan/San Diego State)

University of New Mexico coach Danny Gonzales is not hesitant when taking credit for recruiting running back Jordan Byrd and defensive end Keshawn Banks to San Diego State when he worked as an assistant coach for the Aztecs.

But now there is some regret for Gonzales, who somewhat playfully says he wishes he wouldn’t have tried so hard or they might have ended up at UNM.

The two seniors, Byrd from Manzano High, and Banks from Rio Rancho, have become key players for the 4-0 Aztecs, the No. 25-ranked team in the nation and a 19.5-point favorite over the Lobos (2-3, 0-1 Mountain West), who will face SDSU in their MW opener on Saturday night in Carson, Calif.

“Those two guys are two of the best out there,” Gonzales said. “I’ll take credit for that because I worked my tail off to get those two to San Diego.”

Gonzales’ successful recruitment of Byrd and Banks to SDSU proved to be a parting gift for the Aztecs as he left for Arizona State when Byrd and Banks left Albuquerque for San Diego.

SDSU coach Brady Hoke is happy to have Byrd and Banks.

“I’m glad they’re here in San Diego instead of being in Albuquerque because both of them have really contributed to this program,” Hoke said. “When I got here in 2019 having the privilege to coach Keshawn and to help him develop is really important. Jordan Byrd, he may be one of the fastest guys in the conference. Little guy, he can run now.”

Both Byrd and Banks are grateful for Gonzales’ recruiting efforts, as they have found a home with the Aztecs. But they never forget where they came from.

Byrd seems to take his game to another level whenever a game is associated with anything from New Mexico.

He rushed for 118 yards and two TDs on a career-high 22 carries at New Mexico State on Sept. 14, 2019. Later that year, he ran for a career-high 139 yards and one TD against Central Michigan in the New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium on Dec. 21.

Byrd and Banks were the two SDSU players featured in the Aztecs’ virtual press conference on Tuesday. A reporter asked Byrd if it’s extra special to play against UNM being an Albuquerque native.

A smile came to Byrd’s face.

“It’s special to my parents,” Byrd said. “They love to come out and support New Mexico. My mom is from New Mexico. She loves supporting me and the Lobos as well. It’s going to be really fun. I love playing against New Mexico teams.”

Gonzales said Byrd is one of the fastest players in the MW and his speed makes him dangerous any time he touches the ball. Byrd is also a threat on special teams. He took back a kickoff return 100 yards for a touchdown in the Aztecs’ 33-31 overtime win over Utah on Sept. 18. He has rushed for 142 yards and three TDs on 12 carries.

“I’m just trying to make plays for the team,” Byrd said. “I’m trying to turn the momentum for all of us. Momentum always brings out the game. I’m just try to bring out the momentum in the crowd and with the team.”

Banks has a strong connection to the UNM coaching staff. Former SDSU head coach Rocky Long, now the Lobos’ defensive coordinator, helped develop Banks, and UNM safeties coach David Howes was Banks’ coach while at Rio Rancho.

“He helped me develop as a player, as a young man, as far as getting better and being mentally and physically tough,” Banks said of Long. “He’s a great coach. But he’s not coaching the Aztecs, He’s coaching the Lobos. So, we’ll see what happens Saturday.”

Banks said Howes helped with the recruiting process. Banks said he has a good relationship with Howes, who is Gonzales’ brother-in-law.

“I wish I could talk to (Howes) more, but he’s on the other side,” Banks said. “He’s a good dude. It will be good to see him on Saturday.”

Banks is set to make his 25th start on Saturday, which is tied for the most among active players on the team with defensive lineman Cameron Thomas. Banks, an All-MWC selection in 2019 and an honorable mention in 2020, has four tackles, including two for losses, to go with two pass breakups and three quarterback hurries.

He said he “definitely” wanted out of Albuquerque during the recruiting process.

“I love Albuquerque,” Banks said. “And, Jordan (Byrd) will tell you the same. Albuquerque is home for us. We love it, but San Diego State wins and at the time the other schools that were recruiting me weren’t doing as well as I would like them to. Not to knock them, they are all great programs. But San Diego, you can’t beat that.”

San Diego State defensive lineman Keshawn Banks, left, seen in a game against San Jose State, is a Rio Rancho High School alum. (Credit: Derrick Tuskan/San Diego State)

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