Brian Banks forced himself to forget about the sport he loved.
He had verbally committed to USC as a junior at Long Beach Poly in 2002 before he pleaded no contest to a charge of rape and kidnap. Banks then spent the next five years and two months in prison. He risked a 41-year sentence if he was found guilty.
"In order for me to exit prison with sane mind and be able to just function as the same person, I had to let go of certain dreams and goals," Banks said during a conference call Wednesday. "Football being one of them. ... For me, I had to let that go. I had to let those dreams go in order for me to just focus on what was in front of me -- and that was five years in prison that was a completely different life of violence and just being away from your family and all the different elements that go with prison.
"Football was the last thing on my mind."
Banks signed a contract with the Atlanta Falcons on Wednesday, and he would consider making the 53-man roster the next step in fulfilling his dream of playing in the NFL.
After spending five years behind bars, Banks spent another five years on probation. He couldn't live within 2,000 feet of a school or park, had to register as a sex offender, wore a GPS ankle bracelet and couldn't travel without permission. He was exonerated on May 24, 2012, after a private investigator taped his accuser, Wanetta Gibson, admitting she lied about Banks raping and kidnapping her.
Banks said the first thing he did was take a trip to Sea World.
"It's impossible to explain the feeling of not having freedom," Banks said. "To be stripped away of your freedom, of your dignity, the respect that you once had. To lose it all and watch the world pass you by as you sit inside of a prison cell, knowing that you shouldn't be there, knowing that you're there for another person's lies. ... To wake up one day and get it all back, it's a very humbling, spiritual feeling that you just don't want to take anything for granted. Stepping outside of your house when you want to. Being able to sit on the porch. Being able to open a refrigerator when you're hungry."
"It's a trip," Banks added. "I've had the opportunity of seeing both sides of the human spirit. Those who put you down and degrade you and judge you and wrongfully accuse you and brand you something that you're not. I've met those people. I've met people that only have a one-track mind of violence and destruction and negativity.
"But I've also met people who uplift you and want to support you and want to see you be a better person that's successful in life. My journey has been crazy, but my journey has been a learning experience that has been unlike any other."
Banks spoke for more than 30 minutes about being tested in prison but holding no grudges. His story is incredibly sad, but Banks' positive attitude is inspiring. He's been working on a documentary and a book, and movie deals have been discussed.
Banks will be hard-pressed to make the Falcons' roster, but this is an opportunity he didn't dare dream of for 10 years.
Follow Kareem Copeland on Twitter @kareemcopeland.