Zach Banner isn’t just here at the combine trying to jumpstart his professional career for himself.
The 6-foot-8 and 350-plus-pound offensive tackle from USC and Lakes High School is not just here for his family, either.
No, the way Banner sees it, he is trying to secure a selection in April’s NFL draft for half of Tacoma. The half that has believed in him since he was in grade school.
The rougher half, he wants you know.
“My inspiration from Tacoma is just Tacoma, in general,” he said inside the Indiana Convention Center before his on-field drills for scouts this past weekend. “I’m originally from the East Side, born and raised. I like to say that there’s a lot of people counting on me.”
As a kid, Banner watched as fellow Tacoma natives such as brothers Marcus, Desmond and Isaiah Trufant and more recently Xavier Cooper made the NFL. They were all from crosstown Wilson High School.
“As you know, the East Side is not the best side of town,” Banner said. “I wear where I am from proudly. That’s the reason the tattoos and the things I have, the artwork that I display, it’s one of the things that I am proud of. Because being a kid from there, we didn’t have NFL players from our side of town. Weren’t around. Bottom line.
“My Eastside Boys and Girls Club (on East 64th Street) got shut down. Bottom line.
“I didn’t have that person to look up to. Ever since high school when I did 73 community-service hours back coaching, talking and speaking to the kids, to now working with Metro Parks — we are opening a community center on the East Side, bringing awareness to that — there’s a lot of things.”
He says all that is in no way a burden.
“They are counting on me to just keep doing what I’ve doing,” he said. “So there really is no pressure, if you know what I’m saying. I finished part of the school now. Down the line I will think about a master’s (degree). But right now I am focused on football. I’m really focused.”
He’s focused. And he’s BIG.
Heck, he was 6 feet 7 and over 300 pounds as a freshman — at Lakes.
Yet here he’s not as big as he was even two months ago.
The 6-8 Banner expanded to 385 pounds while playing at USC. That had NFL scouts wondering about his ability to be nimble enough to combat the many quick-twitch edge rushers in this pass-dominant league. He got his weight down before his final season with the Trojans, then it went back up again.
On Wednesday Banner officially weighed 353 pounds at his combine check-in.
“Eight pounds down from what I was at the Senior Bowl. It’s — let’s do the math — it’s about 30 pounds down from what it was the day after the Rose Bowl,” he said proudly.
“I think I’m definitely going to continue to get it down. I see myself down to about 345 for my (USC) pro day March 22. And I see myself being even lower for the draft.”
He knows scouts are watching him for that. Since signing with his agent and leaving amateur status, he’s hired a chef and a nutritionist in preparing for the draft.
“I’m going to keep it down, now that I have the means and resources,” he said.
“We had a lot of great things at USC. But let’s be honest: I was a broke college kid. And I followed the rules, you know what I’m saying?
“It feels great to be a pro.”
What’s he learned about nutrition in his preparation for this combine and April’s draft?
“That if me and you go get a burger, I’m going to gain five pounds — and you’re not,” he said.
“It easier than you think (to eat well, lose weight and be healthy) when you have the means and the money to pay for it.”
Banner said “I have an awesome lady named Miss Danielle, who comes three times a week and cooks meals and puts it in my fridge.
“And it’s great stuff. It’s not like just frozen vegetables and dried chicken breast. It’s like, steak. It’s good veggies. It tastes good. Heat it up for two minutes and it tastes like a five-star meal.
“That’s the quality. And that’s the difference.”
With Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk, Alabama’s Cam Robinson, Utah’s Garett Bolles and Florida State’s Roderick Johnson getting most of the attention here as this draft’s top tackles, Banner has to maximize such seemingly smaller things to fulfill those expectations on Tacoma’s East Side. Some see him as a fifth- to seventh-round pick.
His size alone — USC touted him as unofficially the largest offensive lineman in the country — means a team is likely to select him in April. He said he met with the Seahawks, among many other teams, here at the combine.
He was a finalist for the 2012 Watkins Award as the nation's top African-American high school student-athlete while as a senior at Lakes. Banner left Lakes a huge scholastic star — a high school All-America — and a huge recruiting loss for the Washington Huskies and then-coach Steve Sarkisian. He redshirted his first college year at USC, then missed most of the Trojans’ 2013 season following surgery on both hips. Not playing or practicing in that huge transition year that didn’t help his weight.
He started every USC game as a sophomore in 2014, then got All-Pac-12 honors as a junior and as a senior right tackle last season.
He has been in rally mode since SC’s Rose Bowl win over Penn State Jan. 2. During the 30-pound weight loss and personal training, he seized scouts’ attention at the Senior Bowl showcase.
“Dominant,” is how Banner described his performance there, where his massive frame and arms 35 inches long engulfed top college defenders. “My effort was amazing. I respect myself for making a great effort.”
Indeed, he was in self-promotion mode on the podium inside the convention center. He was delivering a verbal resume.
“I believe in myself as the best,” he said. “I think it shows in my game tape, only allowing a couple of sacks my whole career and allowing no pressures in, what, my last eight games or something like that.
“But I’m not here to brag about myself. I’m here to prove myself with my actions. I want to perform for these NFL teams and I want to show off. I just want to show them that I love football, and that I’m good at what I do.”
Banner also made a point he wants NFL teams to consider: his supposed red-flag of weight is nothing compared to other red flags at this and previous combines.
“You know what the great thing is? You are not asking me about felonies,” Banner said. “I didn’t hurt nobody. I didn’t punch nobody. I didn’t punch a coach. Coaches, everybody loves me — including the media.
“I’m happy with what I’m doing right now. I’m happy that we are talking about something that I can control — and that I have under control.”
Power-packed University of Washington defensive tackle Elijah Qualls, whom many think will get drafted in one of the first two rounds, said Sunday he officially measured 6 feet and a half and 313 pounds at the combine.
“I played at about 319, 320 last year,” he said. “Losing weight has never been a problem. Honestly, my biggest problem was losing too much weight.
“When I first got to UW, I got there at about 310, 315, but I picked up weight so fast that it wasn’t all good weight. And in two months I dropped to 285. I can lose weight. I just wanted to be around 310 just because I didn’t know where people truly envision me — obviously, I know interior — but some people like their D-tackles 325, some people like their tackles 310. I just wanted to kind of be in the middle. If you need me to get bigger I can do it, if you need me to lose some weight I can do it.”