LINCOLN — The biggest grin among Shrine Bowl players might belong to former Omaha Skutt receiver Christian Banker.
Last summer at this time, Banker said, he had two career catches. Now, he heads into the Shrine Bowl as the South team’s potentially best pass-catcher.
Right after the game in Kearney, Banker travels to Lincoln and starts his college football career as a Nebraska walk-on — an offer he didn’t get until late April.
Throughout a seven-minute interview, Banker beamed. And beamed. And beamed. It’s all happening so fast, especially the future as a Husker football player.
“I kind of just came out of nowhere for my senior season,” Banker said. “Which is kind of nice.”
His senior season was kind of great, actually — 70 catches for 1,276 yards and 12 touchdowns.
His yardage set a Class B season record. He was first-team All Nebraska.
Skutt coach Matt Turman — who’s also coach of the Shrine Bowl South team this week — wasn’t shocked the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Banker put up such big numbers. Turman knew Banker was a good athlete — a basketball and soccer player — but, more importantly, consistent in his effort.
“He’s just a crazy hard worker,” Turman said. “Just crazy!”
At that line, Turman started demonstrating the drill Banker would do whenever there was a down moment — whenever most players would just stand in repose. Banker would grab a football with his fingertips, drop it, and catch it on the other hand, again with his fingertips. Over and over.
When Banker made one-handed catches during the season — and Turman said he made plenty — the drill work showed.
“Coming into his senior year we thought he had a chance to be pretty good,” Turman said. “He turned out to be great. Part of that’s a testament to him. He’s one of the hardest-working kids we have. Anytime we’ve opened the weight room during the Shrine Bowl practices — even three-a-days (Monday) — he was waiting to get in.”
As a late-bloomer, Banker didn’t necessarily get a ton of attention from college programs. He had interest from UNK and Augustana, but he turned down those schools because he wanted to study nursing at Nebraska. Until late April, he’d planned on attending the school and maybe trying out for the football team if the mood struck him next spring.
An in-school visit from Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco changed the arc of his story.
Kenny Wilhite, Nebraska’s director of high school relations and walk-on program coordinator, remembered that Banker had a big senior year. Before Diaco came to the school, Wilhite called Turman and asked him: Where is Christian playing in college? Turman told him: Nowhere.
So, when Diaco came by, he inquired, too, about Banker.
Not long after, Banker got a call from Wilhite, who asked if he wanted to walk on at Nebraska.
“With no hesitation, I said yes,” Banker said. He told his family and his mom started crying. “It was all happy emotions. Just ecstatic.”
Here’s where Banker’s work ethic kicked in again: After accepting the walk-on offer, he was out working with some of Skutt’s younger quarterbacks, Turman said. He was running routes. Getting ready.
Turman said he thinks Banker can make a mark at Nebraska. Banker’s first assignment on campus, however, may be to find Diaco. He’s still never spoken to him.
What will the Skutt star say?
“Thank you!” Banker said.