Coming of Age
Photo credit to Cornell Athletic Communications.
Senior wide receiver Colin Shaw lined up in man coverage to the right of starting sophomore quarterback Dalton Banks. No timeouts and 33 seconds left on the clock against then No. 25 Colgate. Down by five and needing a touchdown to win the game.
“They decided to press man and bring a little pressure,” said Banks. “I wanted to throw it over the top and see if Colin could make a play.”
Shaw cut left and then to the outside, breaking into a full sprint toward the end zone from the 20-yard line. Banks received the snap and executed a perfect three step drop. He stepped forward and lobbed the football directly to the back corner of the end zone. The ball was placed precisely over the head of the defender into the outstretched arms of the Big Red receiver – a perfect throw. Falling to the ground, Shaw secured possession with both arms and dragged his left foot along the turf just inside the white paint.
“Sure enough, he made a great play – the most amazing catch I’ve ever seen,” described Banks.
Two referees conferred behind the end zone for about five seconds before shooting both arms in the air, signaling a touchdown. This single play over three weeks ago capped off an amazing 39-38 comeback victory after being down 21-0 to begin the second quarter. Banks threw for 454 yards and registered five total touchdowns to earn Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week and cement himself as the Cornell starting quarterback.
However, this play signified something much bigger for the young QB. It symbolized how far Banks had progressed in one year, going from being a member of the scout team and a JV player to leading the entire Big Red offense.
Banks arrived at Cornell in the summer of 2015 just five-six weeks prior to the start of football season. Instead of forcing him to learn an entire playbook in such a short time, the coaching staff elected to bring him along slowly. Banks used his freshman year to gain a foothold and find his feet as a college quarterback, while putting in extra time off the field.
“I mainly spent time in the weight room getting bigger, faster, and stronger,” explained Banks. “I was just observing, learning the offense, learning the system, and working hard because I knew I wanted to come in strong this year to make an impact.”
A high school standout at the quarterback position and a very competitive person by nature, Banks was forced to understand the big picture in adjusting to the college football landscape. He wanted to play immediately, but learned a valuable lesson from Coach Archer – patience is key. Despite his urge, Banks needed to be fully prepared before stepping onto the field and taking over the reins.
“I got to spend a full year learning the offense before I had any game experience, so that was helpful, and it really set me up for success,” stated Banks.
His confidence improved each week with every additional rep, film session, and meeting. Senior Robert Somborn and junior Jake Jatis also pushed Banks in practice, challenging him to become a better quarterback. Both Somborn and Jatis have valuable game experience, combining for a total of 18 starts. The two signal callers competed with Banks, yet still offered advice and helped him when necessary.
“It wasn’t just a walk in the park where I was handed the position. I had to go out there and earn it,” said Banks. “Rob and Jake are both great players, great teammates, and they were great competition for me as well. They can see things sometimes that I don’t. I still talk to them as much as I can, and they’re right there with me on the sideline every game.”
After endless preparation, Banks geared up for his first career start on the road against Bucknell on September 17th. With some nerves and adrenaline pulsing through his veins, he walked onto the field for his first collegiate snap with confidence. Even after falling behind early, Banks rallied the troops and persevered to secure his first victory under center.
“We had prepared so much that we knew right off the bat that no matter how the game went, we were going to win,” declared Banks. “It was just a huge program win. Week in and week out, we’ve got a great cast around us that is always willing to help. We believe in ourselves, and that belief is what allows us to get out there and win.”
Despite Cornell’s recent disappointing seasons, Coach Archer has continuously been working to instill this culture of success in his team. This year, his vision is finally coming to fruition.
“When I was choosing between colleges, I knew Coach Archer wanted to build something special here,” explained Banks. “He had such belief in this program that we would be successful together that I knew I wanted to play for him. He’s got a great winning mentality that he wants to pass onto everyone and keep it in this program for a long time.”
The Big Red sprinted out the gates of the 2016 season, improving to 3-0 after the brilliant win at Colgate, which marked the team’s first victory on the road against a ranked opponent in 56 years. Since this matchup on October 1st, Cornell has faltered slightly against tough competition, but has still maintained solid football and a confident attitude. The squad fell to current No. 23/24 Harvard at Cambridge, Sacred Heart, and at Brown in double overtime. Sitting at 3-3 heading into the Princeton game, the Big Red will push on and attempt to return to the basics at the heart of their early success.
Through the first three games of the season, Cornell only turned the ball over a total of five times and currently holds a +1 turnover differential over all their opponents thus far. This statistic is no coincidence, as Coach Archer has constantly harped on the team to win the turnover battle. Protecting the ball is crucial, and it’s a key factor contributing to the team’s achievements this year. But, the scary thing is that the Big Red still haven’t lived up to its full potential.
“We still have better football we can play and a higher ceiling to reach,” said Banks. “That’s what is most exciting about all of this. We still have a lot of room to improve, and I think we can still keep winning games and get better at doing it.”
Another key to Cornell’s success lies in the team’s depth, especially on offense. Banks possesses numerous weapons around him, and the time he spent last year observing on the sideline and getting reps in practice has allowed him to develop chemistry with the rest of the offense in 2016.
“I trust all of them – that’s the greatest part about it,” described Banks. “We all believe in each other. If someone goes down, the next man up is going to fill in just as well. Everyone’s great, and that’s one of the most reassuring feelings you can have. I know that I have all these great players around me to help bring success.”
With the season at a possible turning point, Banks and the rest of the Cornell team must dig deep and take the right attitude that Coach Archer has been preaching for nearly four years.
“We can’t lose our focus throughout the rest of the season,” stated Banks. “We’ve got to treat every game like it’s a new season, like it’s a fresh start, and like we’ve got nothing behind us. We go from game to game, and we’ve just got to focus on one at a time.”
The previous version of this article contained an image obtained from the Cornell Daily Sun without their expressed written permission. This piece has since been edited, and the photo was removed.