U-M outside looking in for OT Banner

SAN ANTONIO -- Zach Banner (Lakewood, Wash./Lakes) is a walking tower at 6-foot-9 and 310 pounds. He is the bookend that will protect the blind side of his quarterbacks at Saturday’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Ask the uncommitted offensive lineman about his college choices, and he’ll give you much more than his schools of interest. Banner has USC, Oklahoma and Washington on his short list, with Michigan and Notre Dame on the outside looking in, and while he’s looking for a quality football program, he’s also focused on studying at a place considered a quality academic institution.

“I look at the graduation rate,” Banner said. “I’m not worried about my draft status or my personal status. I’m going to college for athletics, but ultimately, I’m going to get a good education.”

Banner, unlike several of the uncommitted players currently in San Antonio, will not announce where he will be attending during Saturday’s game. Banner also plays basketball for Lakes, and the basketball team’s schedule takes precedence over the recruiting schedule. He is looking to play both sports in college.

Washington is the school closest to home. Lakewood is roughly a half-hour drive from the UW campus, located in Seattle. USC arguably is the most popular choice, as he is a fan of coach Lane Kiffin and how the Trojans have overcome recent adversity to remain relevant in college football. Oklahoma is a wildcard of sorts, but Banner likes the fact the Sooners are consistently in the hunt for a national title.

For those following Banner, Michigan is a dark horse but still in the hunt. He is a fan of first-year coach Brady Hoke and the job that he and his coaching staff did this season. The Wolverines beat Virginia Tech in Tuesday’s Sugar Bowl, claiming their first BCS bowl victory since 2000.

“The program has always been good in the past, and they’re bringing it back,” Banner said. “They didn’t expect to get 10 wins. At the beginning of the year, they said they hoped to get seven or eight [wins] and a bowl win. Now they are celebrating a BCS bowl win. Coach Hoke always has talked about bringing the program back up.”

The winning program, Banner said, will get a vocal leader and a leader by example. The winner also will get a player looking to do all it takes to make his team the premier program not only in the respective conference but throughout FBS football.

“I want to be the best personally and as a teammate,” Banner said. “Me as a teammate, my focus is to win a national championship. Wherever I end up, I feel like they can help me get myself to the next levels as long as I take care of them.”

Damon Sayles covers Midlands recruiting for ESPN Recruiting. He can be reached at dsaylesespn@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSayles