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March 10, 2011

Banner's desire matches talent

It's easy to forget that Zach Banner is still so young, a teenager in a grown man's body at 6 feet 9 and 310 pounds.

It's also easy to forget there is still so much room for the Lakewood (Wash.) Lakes offensive tackle to grow as a football player since he manhandles opponents so easily and overpowers them with his sheer size.

Not to say Banner isn't talented because he's one of the best offensive linemen in the country and has the offer list to prove it. College coaches from every major conference are salivating to land his signature next February. What's so impressive about Banner, though, is his yearning to improve even more.

The saying goes that you can't teach size but Banner is an open book and hungry to dominate more. Lakes coach Dave Miller thinks Banner is something special.

"The nice thing about Zach is that he's really self-motivated," Miller said. "He has a burning desire to be great so he's always trying to do the extra things to get better and challenge himself. He has some really, really special physical gifts but his intelligence, his work ethic, his leadership, all the intangibles, are just as special. That's what is going to make him great.

"He's still young so we're continually trying to get him stronger and trying to play lower and it's been fun to watch because from ninth grade to 11th grade he's just improved leaps and bounds. You just see him becoming a man before your eyes."

A MAN OF TWO SPORTS?

Banner had 15 points and eight rebounds in Lakes' 3A state basketball championship victory over Bellevue Saturday night. The school held an assembly Monday to celebrate the title. After the gathering, Banner found Miller to tell him he wanted to hit the weight room.

That encapsulates Banner's work ethic: No time off. No breaks. Banner wants to push harder than anyone, be better than anyone and wants to put in the work to get there. Miller doesn't want Banner to relax too much because there is so much potential but everyone needs a little respite.

"I said, 'You know what, you should take a week off,'" Miller said. "And he didn't want to do it. Even during basketball if he has a day off he'll go in the weight room and do extra work. He's such a pleasure to coach."

The nice thing about Zach is that he's really self-motivated…He has some really, really special physical gifts but his intelligence, his work ethic, his leadership, all the intangibles, are just as special. That's what is going to make him great.
- Lakewood (Wash.) Lakes coach Dave Miller
Multiple times, Banner has stated he wants to play football and basketball in college. He's more than capable because he's so talented in both sports but one wonders if this is a passing childhood fantasy or if Banner is dead set on that decision. It could have recruiting ramifications and might give some schools an edge over others.

It's still important to remember he's just a kid not even finished with his junior season of high school. Priorities might change. His focus on football might become even more intense. To hear Lakes teammate Cedric Dozier tell it, Banner is still a little bit of a kid at heart.

"Zach is a big guy who's very lively," Dozier said. "He is a good friend. He's a cool dude to be around. I don't know, he's just a big fun guy and really funny."

Seattle Rotary AAU basketball coach Daryl Hennings said it will be difficult for him to play both sports because Banner's body structure might have to change between seasons - the football coaches will beef him up, where the basketball coaches might want him leaner to endure the rigors of running up and down the floor. Playing two sports at his size could be too physically demanding.

Miller said he has an opinion on the two-sport attempt but doesn't want it made public because he wants Banner to make his own choices. Many of those close to Banner believe it will be difficult to excel at two sports no matter what. Being average isn't acceptable to Banner. He wants to be great and maybe focusing on football alone would give him that chance.

"He really is pretty serious about trying to do that," Miller said. "I just feel like time will play that out for him. It's going to take care of itself how far he's able to go in each sport and what he's able to do.

"I have an opinion but I try not to share it because I want it to be his decision. He has some dreams and one of them is to play both sports in college so you don't want to throw any water on that fire. When he gets there, it's a business on the next level, and his coaches and he will figure it out. It's very difficult to do.

"Everybody talks about Tony Gonzales and guys who did it 20 years ago but nowadays it just overlaps so much and there is so much asked in each sport it's an awful difficult thing to excel at two sports. I know Zach wants to be great. it will be interesting to see how it plays out."

AIM FOR GREATNESS

Even with all his offers and all the recognition and publicity, Banner remains grounded. That could oftentimes be a difficult thing to do but Miller said Banner's parents - Ron and Vanessa - have made sure overconfidence and cockiness haven't tainted his focus on being the best.

Keeping Banner grounded might have been extra challenging since he comes from NFL lineage. His biological father is former pro offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy although Kennedy's involvement in Banner's life is limited.

Miller said when Banner got to Lakes as a freshman the topic was touchy but Banner has not only matured and accepted the situation but that he's currently focused only on football, basketball and recruiting and that family matters - or future involvement with Kennedy - have been put on hold.

Miller credits a stable home life with Ron and Vanessa as one of the many reasons why Banner has already been so successful in two sports and generally as a person in the community.

"It's been really good for Zach not to harbor any ill feelings," Miller said. "That was my main concern that he wouldn't feel good about the situation. Luckily for Zach, he's had a tremendous father in Ron Banner. He's done a tremendous job of raising him and being there for him and just being a real solid role model for him in his life.

"Ron coached him to the ninth grade, Ron has been an absolute rock for him, taught him how to be a man, gave him his work ethic, gave him discipline and love and all the stuff fathers do. He's where he's at because of his father. Obviously he gets some characteristics from Lincoln but he's lucky to have loving parents who taught him so well."

Even with his size and ability, Banner has been shocked that recruiting has been so busy. He has offers from Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Penn State, Tennessee, USC, Oregon and pretty much the rest of the Pac-10.

But to hear it from Banner, he's still not satisfied and has to continue pushing to become an even better prospect.

"Everything was unexpected because in my family we have a thing where we never take anything for granted," Banner told DuckSportsAuthority.com.

"When I first got into high school coach Miller told me if you do everything correct and right you are going to get recruited highly. But I have just always been a person that doesn't take anything for granted so I didn't expect it. I just went out and worked and figured whatever comes will be because I earned it."



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