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‘The Dancing Bear’: Aaron Banks contributes to stellar Irish offensive line

| Friday, October 23, 2020

Aaron Banks had anything but a conventional high school football career. The senior guard from Alameda, California, stands at nearly 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds, no welcoming sight to any opposing defender despite what his smile might convince you in his UND.com player profile. 

The starting right guard for Notre Dame causes problems for whoever lines up against him, but he is no stranger to running straight through a hurdle or two himself. Jacob Rincon, who is now the athletic director and head football coach at Bank’s alma mater, El Cerrito High School, described how the weight equipment at the school was limited. Banks addressed this problem head on and would find a solution that was beneficial to every party involved. He encountered a now prominent figure along the way with whom he shared a trainer — Alabama running back Najee Harris. 

“Yeah, we didn’t have a lot of weights,” Banks said. “So myself and my little brother would go before school, at like 4:30 in the morning and go lift weights before school because there wasn’t time after school.”

It is safe to say that this weight training was essential in Bank’s development as a football player. In his 844 snaps last season he allowed just two sacks. Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars’ apprentice is helping to fill in one of the strongest offensive lines in the country and is so much of a force that former offensive coordinator Chip Long gave him the nickname, “The Dancing Bear.” 

“Two years ago, I was playing right tackle behind Robert Hainsey and that was kind of when I was starting to figure it out and play better, and Chip Long started to call me ‘the dancing bear,’” Banks said. “He just loved that nickname … he called me that the whole season and it just kind of stuck.” 

Allison Thornton | The Observer

Notre Dame offensive lineman Aaron Banks looks to pick up a block during Notre Dame’s 52-20 win over Navy on Nov. 16, 2019.

Although they don’t necessarily need to be hyping themselves up every play to take someone to the ground like their defensive counterparts, the environment typical of Notre Dame Stadium is just as missed by the offensive line. Although Banks says that it hasn’t discouraged the Irish sidelines, and the lack of noise doesn’t have much of an effect on their quality of play. 

“You’ve kinda just gotta bring your own juice. We try to bring energy with our play and the sideline gets going,” he said. “It’s a little quiet here and there, it’s something we’re not used to, especially in our own stadium where we’re used to it being really loud. But we’ve just done a great job with the guys on the sideline, getting really excited when we make plays, and just kind of staying in the play and not really worrying about that. It’s kind of an exterior factor.”

Pitt’s defense is no joke, and is probably the biggest test yet for the Irish offense this season. The Panthers are ranked No. 1 among rushing defenses. They have given up only 369 rushing yards on the 199 carries ran against them through their first six games. In their first game of the season they gave up just one net rushing yard to Austin Peay.

Most impressive, in all their contests this season they have only given up 100+ rushing yards just twice against Louisville and Miami, to whom they conceded 116 and 109 yards on the ground, respectively. It will make for an interesting matchup with a Notre Dame team that is finally starting to find a groove in the ground game, something long, long overdue. 

Considering the Irish air raid has slowed down with the arrival of a Tommy Rees offense and also with the emergence of a strong backfield highlighted by sophomore Kyren Williams and freshman Chris Tyree, the battle in the trenches will certainly be one to focus on come Saturday. Banks is looking forward to the battle up front though, even if it may be the biggest challenge he has faced all year. 

“Yeah, they’re [a] pretty tough defense, gritty guys,” he said. “I think that they’re kind of similar to our defense in the fact that they just play really hard. I think it will be a good test for us to come out and play very physical. It’s gonna be a hard game. It’s going to be a fistfight.”

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