Banner makes a big impression

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

As physically imposing Banner is, he’s made a case in San Antonio as being the most intellectually imposing player. Banner’s articulation and vocal eloquence is as impressive – if not more – as his pancake blocks.

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 at certain schools,” 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. He said he has a visit scheduled to USC the weekend of Jan. 13, but he may push the visit back. Banner also plays basketball for Lakes, and the basketball team’s schedule is currently taking precedence over the recruiting schedule.

Washington is the school closest to home. Lakewood is roughly a half-hour drive from the UW campus, located in Seattle. Oklahoma is considered a wildcard of sorts. Banner likes the fact that the Sooners are consistently in the hunt for a national championship every season.

For those following Banner, USC arguably is the most popular choice on his list. He is a fan of head coach Lane Kiffin and the fact that the Trojans have overcome adversity to remain relevant in college football.

“It’s on the rise, and it’s coming back,” Banner said of the program. “Coach Kiffin is definitely a national coach, and he puts out national players. He’s going to put out the No. 1 tackle in the country this year [Matt Kalil]. A lot of people say I want to go there because spots will be open. It’s not about that; it’s about the school that might be for me.

“I took two visits, and I think it’s a good place. You think about Matt Barkley coming back, and you think about it being a private school with a good education, and it’s a good opportunity. That’s $70,000, and you’re talking about going there for free.”

Wherever he ends up, Banner said he is looking to play football and basketball in college. 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