Lanier walked on, into Canton Banks taught him to be student first

December 08, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

For all of the players Earl Banks sent to the NFL, the most successful Morgan State alumnus was one he never recruited.

Willie Lanier was a walk-on guard from Richmond, Va., in 1963, but he became a two-time All-American at Morgan and a Hall of Fame middle linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Lanier, in fact, turned down a full scholarship to Virginia State to study business administration at Morgan for two reasons: He wanted to get away from segregation in the South, and he felt there were better job opportunities in business administration in the North.

How Lanier wound up on Banks' football team is a bizarre story.

"My high school teammate, a quarterback named Gilbert Carter, was sought out by Morgan," Lanier said recently. "I hadn't been recruited. About July of that year, I told Coach Banks I was interested in attending Morgan State, but he didn't know that much about me.

"He didn't have any scholarships, either. I said that didn't matter. I thought Morgan would give me opportunities four years later. And their athletic program was very strong at the time."

Thanks to a "natural growth spurt," Lanier went from 210 pounds as a high school graduate to 245 that September. Before long, he was a starting linebacker on defense. He appreciated the opportunity, as well as Banks' emphasis on academics.

"Of those incoming freshman student-athletes, everybody graduated on time," he said. "You didn't have any question of what you were. You were a student first. You understood that. We didn't seek, nor expect, anything more than anyone else."

Lanier described Banks as "direct, pragmatic [as a coach] . . . He was one who taught you to reach your level of excellence, one who continued to push you to understand that life and what you get out of it corresponds directly to what you put into it."

Lanier got his bachelor's degree in business administration, and today is a vice president at Wheat First Securities in Richmond. He attended a dinner for Banks on Friday in Baltimore and will fly to New York for tonight's College Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

How big a role did Banks play in Lanier's life?

"A tremendous amount of what I am and what I accomplished came from Earl being one of those very strong foundation blocks," Lanier said. "The true essence of a person is not what they accomplish, but what those do who come under their charge. That is the true message of the person."

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