IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Brad Banks was among the fortunate.
Well, as fortunate as a youngster could be in Belle Glade, Fla., a muggy, gritty town surrounded by acres of sugar cane fields, a town without a mall or theater.
''Brad was pretty blessed in relation to most kids,'' said Milton Watson, Banks' football coach at Glade Central High School. ''First, by having both parents, and then by both parents' being there to push him.
''Generally, that doesn't happen. It's sort of a migrant community. What you would take for granted generally is not the norm here.''
Charles and Vida Banks made sure the only child from their marriage -- they had 12 others from previous marriages -- went to church, prayed and did his homework. And when it came time for football, they encouraged him to work just as hard at that.
From that nurturing came a talented yet modest quarterback whose emergence as a senior at Iowa has been one of the great success stories in college football.
Banks led No. 3 Iowa to its first 11-win season, its first unbeaten Big Ten season since 1922, and a berth in the Orange Bowl. The rewards have followed.
This week began with Banks being honored as The Associated Press College Player of the Year. It could end with him picking up the Heisman Trophy in New York, a long way from the cane fields of South Florida where Banks and his cousins used to chase rabbits.
''I didn't know about all those good things, all the awards,'' Banks said. ''The only thing I knew was that if we went out and played every game and got the 'W' and did everything that the coaches asked us to do, then good things would occur."
What's so refreshing about Banks' story is that he became a Heisman contender without any preseason fanfare. In fact, one of the biggest questions about the Hawkeyes in August was how well Banks would perform. He backed up senior Kyle McCann last season, when Iowa finished 7-5 with a victory in the Alamo Bowl, and he never had started a college game.
What Banks did was beyond what anyone had a right to expect. He led the nation in passing efficiency, throwing for 25 touchdowns with only four interceptions. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,369 yards. His last interception came against Indiana on Oct. 19. In a 62-10 victory over Minnesota, Banks threw 10 passes -- and completed all 10 for 197 yards and three touchdowns.
As a runner, he averaged 5.3 yards a carry and scored five touchdowns. And to think that a year ago he usually got into the game only when coach Kirk Ferentz wanted a more mobile quarterback.
''I was letting it be up to the coaches, just sitting back and waiting my turn,'' Banks said.
Iowa is lucky in a way that he was there to call on. After his final season at Hinds Community College in Mississippi, Banks committed to North Carolina State, which wanted him as a wide receiver. He played receiver his first year at Hinds, then switched to quarterback.
''I told them I wanted to come, but they backed off,'' Banks said. ''They got interested in somebody else. There was nothing I could do about it.''
Banks figured another opportunity would come, and it did. Iowa, which sent assistant coach Ron Aiken to Hinds to look at another player, became intrigued by Banks and wanted him as a quarterback.
''It always works out,'' he said. ''I do a lot of prayer. My mom prays a lot. I come from a praying family, so there wasn't any need to worry about things.''
His mother is a kindergarten teacher, and his father is a farm labor contractor. Charles Banks often works six or seven days a week, supervising the planting and harvesting of sugar and other crops in an area that also is rich in football talent. Miami's Santonio Thomas and Florida's Fred Taylor, Reidel Anthony and Johnny Rutledge, among others, all came from Belle Glade.
''It's taught me a lot about life. It's taught me a lot about how to treat people,'' Banks said. ''You treat people with respect. You treat people the way you want to be treated. That was the way I was brought up. I feel like I've got the best family in the world.''
It's certainly a big family. When his grandmother, Estelle Banks, died in November, her obituary listed 131 grandchildren, 309 great grandchildren and 91 great-great grandchildren. Banks learned of her death just before Iowa's season finale at Minnesota. He wrote ''Rest in peace, Grandma'' on the tape he wore on his wrists for that game.
If Banks wins the Heisman, she'll be among those in his thoughts.
''I'm going to have a long list of thank yous, I know that,'' he said.
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