Jaren Banks’ parents have assured him that on Saturday they will indeed be wearing red at the Autzen stadium.
But that requires a major wardrobe change for the Banks family.
Growing up in Eugene, Banks — a starting linebacker for the 12th-ranked Eastern Washington Eagles (1-0) — went to as many Ducks games as he could. His parents, he said, had season tickets to Oregon games long before he was born, until his freshman year in college.
“Section 14, row 21 or 22, seats 14 and 15,” Banks said Monday. “I still remember the seats.”
Banks is one of many Eagles players for whom Saturday’s game against Oregon (0-1) is something of a homecoming, to their home state if not their hometown. Eight registered Eagles players are from the state and a few others have played across the Columbia River in Vancouver or another nearby city.
Senior defensive end Mitchell Johnson grew up in the Portland area, but his entire family is from Eugene, he said, and he grew up attending many Ducks games. After he started playing at Eastern, he still occasionally went on the Eagles’ bye week, although he was careful to wear Eagle red at that time.
“My best friend starts at center for them,” Johnson said, referring to fellow West Linn High grad Alex Forsyth. “It’s going to be really fun playing Autzen.”
Banks has played at Autzen before, although it happened during his youth football days in front of much smaller crowds.
Banks also has some of those personal connections: Ducks senior offensive lineman Ryan Walk and second Patrick Herbert also attended Sheldon High in Eugene when Banks did.
“Seeing friends is always fun,” Banks said, “although I don’t know if we’ll be too (friendly) against each other.”
Banks played for two other college football teams before returning to the Northwest. Out of high school in the fall of 2019, he played at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, where his older brother James had started his college career in 2013.
He transferred to Rice, where he played on a scholarship for two seasons and earned a degree in sports management. But he only played five games in two years there, so he decided to try a transfer again.
“I went into the (transfer) portal and stayed there for quite a long time,” Banks said. “It was a little scary. Everyone is a little scared that they don’t have a place to go next.
But a close friend got his name in front of Eastern staff, Banks said, and that led to an opportunity to return to the Pacific Northwest. It was a similar path to that of his brother James, who moved from NMMI to Alabama-Birmingham before ending his career at Montana in 2016 and 2017.
“I grew up watching Oregon football, but watching my brother play in Montana, I knew what an awesome conference the Big Sky was,” Banks said. “My family can come to the games. It felt like it was just a win-win.
The Eagles were looking to replace their top four linebackers from last season, and Banks fit in well: He started the season opener against Tennessee State and finished with seven tackles, including 1.5 for a loss.
“I know guys who can be bigger, faster and stronger (than me),” Banks said, “but knowing the defense to the best of my ability is something I’m proud of.”
His next start will be in his hometown, with his family in the stands. He pretty much knows where some of their allegiances lie – like his parents, who are sure to wear red. The parents of his best friends will also be wearing Eagles colors amid what will likely be a sea of Oregon green and yellow.
But the best friend? Banks isn’t entirely sure, nor is he entirely sure if the joke is about him or his friend.
“He grew up being a Duck fan, and I don’t know if he’s going to wear red or green,” Banks said. “He keeps saying he’s going to wear green, and I said, ‘I don’t think I can be your friend anymore if you do.’ ”