Banyard visits ex-coach before heading to NFL

Though he has yet to play a down, Joseph Banyard is one of the very few Sweet-water High School athletes who has made it to the top of his profession.Last month, Banyard — a star running back at Sweetwater from 2004-06 who also had a standout college career at Texas-El Paso (UTEP) — signed a three-year contract with the New Orleans Saints as a rookie free agent. Banyard reports to the Saints for the start of their training camp in Met-airie, La. on Tuesday.Banyard has already been to two minicamps, the first one in early May after signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent. Alhough he was eventually waived by the Jaguars later that month, Banyard got a second chance in June when the Saints signed him to a multi-year deal follow-ing his impressive perform-ance at their minicamp that was held June 5-7.While the Saints already have good talent at the running back position with Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory, the 5-11, 213-pound Banyard is expected to add more stability and could prove to be a valuable asset, according to at least one NFL website. He is also being looked at on special teams and as a receiver.But an invitation from ex-high school coach Shane Mobley brought him back to Sweetwater briefly this past week. Banyard said it was his first time back since his high school days. It was his idea to call Mobley, who had previously served as an assistant coach to Kent Jackson for four years, all during Banyard’s time here before each eventually went their separate ways. Banyard said he also talked during his visit with several of the current Mustang players. He said he tried to “give an inspirational word” and push them to do their best. “That’s what I want to do while I’m here,” he said.Banyard admitted he was surprised when the Jaguars contacted him on the last day of the NFL draft and signed him as a free agent. He was cut by the team a few weeks later, but then got another chance with the Saints, who offered him a three-year contract on the last day of their minicamp — something Banyard was apparently unprepared for.“It was just like two-a-days. You get evaluated by everybody,” he said. “I was there to do business and knew I had to make the most of my opportunities. “I had my bags packed (the last day). But they told me to drop the bags and get a later (airplane) flight.”Over the next several weeks, Banyard will be trying to continue making the most of his chances and win a permanent spot on the team. The first roster cut to 80 players is scheduled for Aug. 28, with a final cut to the 53-player limit scheduled on Sept. 2. Banyard could also make the practice squad reserved for eight players who don’t make the final 53-man roster. If he doesn’t make it in the NFL, Banyard plans to go into law enforcement, hopefully with the FBI. It’s a career he prepared for at UTEP by receiving a degree in criminal justice.Banyard still stays in con-tact with younger brother Nick, who has made news since leaving Sweetwater as a star player for the Flower Mound Marcus Marauders basketball team that has won the last two Class 5A championships. Nick hasn’t given up basketball since leaving high school and will play for the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque starting next year.Joseph was at this year’s state championship game to watch Nick, a 6-foot-8 forward, play against Fort Bend Travis, and said he got to see his brother play “a lot” this year after graduating from college in December.“I was a little jealous (of his brother’s team success) at first,” Joseph admitted. “But when that final buzzer went off, I was in tears.”Now, Nick has a chance to root for his older brother on an even bigger stage.