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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Football

Latrell Bankston motivated to have breakout season for UH football in 2021


Junior defensive lineman Latrell Bankston believes he is in for a breakout season in his first year as a Cougar. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Junior defensive lineman Latrell Bankston believes he is in for a breakout season in his first year as a Cougar. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Every time Latrell Bankston laces up his cleats, he writes his mother’s name, birthday and date of her death on them and remembers a promise he made her as a young boy: one day Bankston was going to buy her a pink Cadillac, her favorite car, with her name, Marcia, on the license plate.

But Bankston’s life changed forever when he was 15. 

While giving birth to Bankston’s younger brother Marcellus, Marcia suffered from preeclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure and points to problems with another organ system. After Marcellus’ birth, Marcia’s blood pressure continued to rise and she passed away 18 days later.

Marcia’s death hit Bankston hard because of how close he was to her as the two were practically best friends, spending every moment they could creating memories together.

After taking time to process his mother’s death, Bankston became hungrier than ever to pursue his dream of becoming a professional football player because he knows it’s exactly what his mother would want him to do.

“Whatever she went through, it’s ten times harder than whatever I go through every day,” Bankston said.

Overcoming his critics

Bankston did not receive a single Division I offer out of high school, largely because of his lack of size.

But that didn’t stop the 6-foot defensive lineman.

“I always had a chip on my shoulder being a shorter stature guy and people overlooking me all the time just off my height and not off my play,” Bankston said.

Bankston’s first step towards accomplishing his childhood dream began at Hutchinson Community College, where he spent the 2018-2019 seasons making a name for himself.

A breakout sophomore campaign, in which Bankston was named the 2019 Jayhawk Conference Defensive Player of the Year after recording 63 tackles, including 22 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks, led Bankston to Iowa State.

Bankston had a productive 2020 season at Iowa State, but he didn’t fully fit in the Cyclones’ schemes.

Road to Houston

After initially deciding he would transfer to Lousiana, several of Bankston’s teammates at Hutchinson and current Cougars Art Green, Jamykal Neal and Kelvin Clemmons told their former teammate that he would thrive at UH.

That pitch along with Bankston’s relationship with UH defensive line coach Brian Early convinced the Woodstock, Georgia native to transfer to UH.

“I just knew the scheme here and Ed Oliver doing what he did here, I really believe I could make a difference for this team from a football standpoint and a cultural standpoint,” Bankston said.

Players and coaches have raved about what the new defensive lineman has brought to the team, both on the field and in the locker room.

Teammates have described Bankston, who they call Big Bank, as a “beast” and “monster” on the field and a guy who was much needed for the Cougars’ atmosphere off the field.

“(Bankston’s) the type of guy who loves to play football,” said UH defensive coordinator Doug Belk. “He wants every rep in practice. He feels like he needs to get better each and every rep and I love his mentality and his mindset when it comes to playing football.”

Despite only being at UH for a few months, Bankston already has his eyes set on adding his name to the list of recent all-time great UH defensive linemen like Ed Oliver and Payton Turner.

Bankston credits Early for the development he has made over the offseason, believing he can become one of the country’s best defensive linemen in 2021 because of his position coach.

“My pass rushing here just increased tenfold being under coach Early,” Bankston said. “He’s the best D-line coach I’ve played for already. I haven’t even played a game yet but I can tell you right now he’s the real deal.”

Fulfilling a promise

While Marcia will not physically be present in the stands to watch her son wreak havoc on the opposing offense, Bankston is confident that she will be watching him from above, standing by his side him throughout his first season as a Cougar.

2021 is yet another opportunity for Bankston to make his mother proud and move a step closer to his goal of playing in the NFL.

The promise of the Cadillac Bankston made to his mother at such a young age still serves as his biggest motivator every time he takes the field under the bright lights. 

And one day, Bankston intends to fulfill that promise.

“My mom never missed not one of my athletic events ever,” Bankston said. “I just know spiritually that she’s still here with me all the time. … I just try to throw my body out there every day just for her to know (I’m going to keep my promise).”

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