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Banner's decision based on academics

1/5/2012

SAN ANTONIO -- Zach Banner (Lakewood, Wash./Lakes) is a walking tower at 6-foot-9 and 310 pounds. He is the bookend who will protect the blind sides of his quarterbacks in Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

As physically imposing as Banner is, he's also made a case in San Antonio as being the most intellectually imposing player. Banner's articulation and vocal eloquence are as impressive as his pancake blocks, maybe more.

Ask the uncommitted offensive lineman about his college choices, and he'll give you much more than his schools of interest. Banner has Oklahoma, USC 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 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. No other visits have been scheduled, as Banner also plays basketball for Lakes.

Washington is the school closest to home. Lakewood is roughly a half-hour drive from the UW campus, located in Seattle.

As for USC, Banner is a fan of USC 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."

Oklahoma is a wild card of sorts. Banner is a fan of coach Bob Stoops and recruiting coordinator Bruce Kittle, and he likes the fact that the Sooners are consistently in the hunt for national championships.

"Oklahoma's a winning program. It's obvious that Coach Stoops knows what he's doing," Banner said. "I think he has seven Big 12 titles and a national title under his belt -- and he's been to three of them [national championship games]. Coach Stoops and his assistant coaches are good people. It's just a good program to be in."

Michigan is a dark horse but still in the hunt. Banner is a fan of first-year coach Brady Hoke and the job he and his coaching staff did this season. The Wolverines beat Virginia Tech in Tuesday's Sugar Bowl, claiming their first BCS bowl victory since 2000.

"The program's always been good in the past, and they're bringing it back," Banner said. "They didn't expect to get 10 wins. At the beginning of the year, they said they hoped to get seven or eight [wins] and a bowl win. Now they are celebrating a BCS bowl win. Coach Hoke always has talked about bringing the program back up."

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 the FBS.

"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 level as long as I take care of them."

Damon Sayles covers recruiting in the Midlands for ESPN Recruiting. He can be reached at dsaylesespn@gmail.com.