San Francisco Chronicle

Banks’ growth beyond physical

S.F. guard changed focus in offseason

- By Eric Branch

Aaron Banks weighed 188 pounds when he was in third grade, which meant the San Francisco 49ers left guard had to trek 30 miles from his home in Alameda to play in a no-weight-limit youth football league in Pleasanton.

The 8-year-old, of course, was bigger than the rest of his teammates. And opponents. And others.

“Aaron,” said his mother, Teresa, “was bigger than the coach.”

Banks was an anomaly on the field. But not at home. His older sister, Dalisia, 30, who is 5-foot-10, and his brothers, Lamont Jr., 27, and Franklin, 22, all grew up bigger than their peers.

And that inspired their parents, Lamont, who played high school football, and Teresa, a former bodybuilde­r, to ensure they stayed active and healthy.

Aaron, 25, now 6-5 and 325 pounds, smiled Wednesday in the 49ers’ locker room as he recalled their before-bed routine: 150 made free throws and 2,000 jump-rope skips in their backyard. And Teresa said that was followed by vitamins and a blended “calcium cocktail”: two cups of nonfat milk, four scoops of Ovaltine and six scoops of dry milk.

“We like food,” Teresa said. “We like the way it tastes. We like to eat. And so it was, ‘OK, you’ve got to stay in shape.’ ”

Seventeen years after Banks dwarfed his youth-football coach, he’s standing tall in the NFL thanks to a body transforma­tion — this one wasn’t supervised by his parents — that has made him a key part of an offensive line that will face its toughest test Sunday in the NFC Championsh­ip Game in Philadelph­ia.

After a disappoint­ing rookie season, Banks, a 2021 secondroun­d pick who was an AllAmerica­n at Notre Dame, has started 18 games (including playoffs) for an offense that allowed the NFL’s sixth-fewest sacks and ranked eighth in rushing.

Now the 49ers’ line will be tasked with handling its most formidable front.

The Eagles had an NFLhigh 70 sacks, which was 15 more than any other team and matched the third most in NFL history. Philadelph­ia has four defensive tackles, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph, who have combined for 16 Pro Bowl berths.

“They are very good across the board,” Banks said. “They have depth on the interior. So it’s not just the first two guys and you get past that and get some scrubs. It will be a big task for whoever is out there. But I think we’re looking forward to it.”

Banks will be out there a year after he was inactive

for the 49ers’ loss to the Rams in the NFC Championsh­ip Game.

That marked the end of a rookie season in which he played just five snaps. And it was the beginning of an offseason in which he trained at the team facility, lowered his body fat, increased his functional strength and sharpened his focus.

“There are no gimmes at this level,” Banks said. “There’s no, ‘Hey, you’re going to come in and be a starter.’ You’ve to work for it. It definitely humbled me. I had to take a step back, look at myself and examine what I wasn’t doing right.”

Banks wasn’t the only lineman with plenty to prove. He is a member of an interior-line threesome — a group that includes center Jake Brendel and rookie guard Spencer Burford — that entered the season surrounded by skepticism.

Banks, Brendel and Burford had combined for three career starts, all by Brendel, 30, who wasn’t drafted and is with his fifth NFL team. Burford was a fourth-round pick from Texas-San Antonio and Banks spent his first year as a spectator.

It looked like a potential disaster. But offensive line coach Chris Foerster said enough talent was evident to provide belief.

“It wasn’t like we rolled it out there and said, ‘We hope,’ ” Foerster said. “We hoped, yes. But we also talked about they all had a skill set that said they could do it.”

Banks’ skill set includes nimble feet that he credits to his basketball background, a sport that was also played by his siblings. Teresa, despite never playing the sport, coached some of their teams: She laughed about placing a cover over her “Basketball for Dummies” book to conceal her initial lack of knowledge.

Banks, whose agility earned him the nickname “Dancing Bear” by one of his Notre Dame coaches, was part of part of a basketball program that won back-to-back North Coast Section titles at El Cerrito High. And his hoops helped develop some qualities that belie his size.

“It helped me with footwork, hand-eye coordinati­on and understand­ing angles,” Banks said. “And ‘OK, I have something I need to protect. I need to protect the rim so how do I get in the way of you getting there?’ It just provided a real understand­ing of where I need to put my body to get in front of guys.”

Banks’ earliest basketball memories were in his backyard, before bed, when he and his siblings would launch their shots and skip rope. Teresa estimates Aaron was around 5 when he was gradually “grandfathe­red” into the family program he credits for much of his success.

“They both understood the body and how to build strength,” Banks said. “How to feed us as kids so we’d be big, but not so big that we couldn’t move. A lot of it is a testament to them for building that foundation.”

 ?? Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle 2022 ?? San Francisco linemen Aaron Banks (left) and Mike McGlinchey will face a challenge in Philadelph­ia.
Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle 2022 San Francisco linemen Aaron Banks (left) and Mike McGlinchey will face a challenge in Philadelph­ia.

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