It was the spring of 2012 and Zach Banner, headed to USC out of Lakes High School as one of the best and most recruited offensive linemen this state has ever seen, was giving a speech at C.I. Shenanigans as a finalist for the community service-based Watkins Award.
Banner looked right at his brother, Xavier, who was 13 at the time. And he gave him a pointed message:
People will try to cast you in my shadow. Instead, go make your own.
“It was a pivotal moment,” said Ron Banner, the boys’ father. “It made Xavier realize he needed to be his own man.”
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Today, Xavier Banner is one of the team captains as a senior at Lakes, determined to have the Lancers ready for their Class 3A first-round matchup Saturday against Southridge at Lampson Stadium in Kennewick.
Miles away across the state, Zach Banner — now a senior for the Trojans — will make his only visit to Husky Stadium as his team takes on Washington in a Pac-12 showdown.
It’s unfortunate the brothers cannot watch each other play this weekend. Maybe that is a good thing in some way, Xavier said with a smile.
“When I perform in front of him, I get so nervous,” Xavier said. “I feel if I have to impress somebody, it is him.”
The brothers are as different as they are similar. Even though both love football, Zach is 6-foot-9, 345 pounds; Xavier is 6-1, 205.
Zach has always showcased a booming personality suited for politics. Xavier has had to find his own voice.
“Living in that family, you are going to (emerge as a leader) at some point,” Lakes coach Dave Miller said. “There is so much charisma, you have to find a way to get words in.”
Being so much older, Zach has struck the ideal balance of holding Xavier accountable, yet always showing him love, compassion and camaraderie.
“I criticize him more than my share,” Zach said. “When we are away from athletics and the training facility, it’s like, ‘Let’s continue to be the brothers like we’ve always been.’ ”
This season, Xavier has provided his team the biggest assist in its current success.
After two early losses, Miller and his coaching staff sat down to evaluate what needed to change. One area they looked at was the offensive line.
A regular on defense at linebacker, Xavier rotated in at tight end on offense when starter Cale Lindsay needed a break.
Seeing that one of his best players stood on the sideline much of the time when the offense was on the field, Miller went to Xavier and asked if he would switch positions, moving from reserve tight end to his brother’s old spot at left tackle.
“It was not just to show leadership,” Xavier said. “Coaches were telling me in August, and after the first game, ‘You are a senior, you should never want to come off the field.’
“It was the right decision. It is what I should have been doing — being in a dogfight with four other brothers as opposed to just standing on the sideline.”
Xavier isn’t your usual hulking, overpowering offensive tackle. But he is quick. And Zach has surely given him useful tips for his skill set.
“He’s told me to not lunge off the line. When you do that, it allows the defenders to grab your shoulder pads and bring you down,” said Xavier, who is considering an offer to play at the College of Idaho. “He just says to get off the ball, know the snap count and be physical.”
Last weekend, the Lancers were tied with Edmonds-Woodway midway through the fourth quarter of a district playoff matchup at Edmonds Stadium.
Lakes called a inside trap run for quarterback Cody Roe. Xavier was the lead blocker through the line.
“Their last guy (to the end zone) was the safety, and I pancaked him,” Xavier said.
Roe scored the winning touchdown on a 46-yard run as the Lancers advanced, 21-14.
“When you see your teammate in the end zone, a feeling of, ‘Wow, we just did that’ comes over you,” Xavier said. “That was probably the most hyped moment I’ve had on a field.”
A moment Zach was certain to be proud of.
“I just told him to relax,” Zach said. “That is what brought his game out — and the fun and determination to be his own person.”