It is his first press conference with the media since being named the starting quarterback for Cornell football as a sophomore. And it shows.
Dalton Banks’ posture is timid, his responses are brief and he places himself noticeably far away from the camera. It is conspicuously one of his first times being filmed for television.
Fast forward several weeks later — after Banks has accounted for 16 touchdowns and 1,620 total yards to triple the team’s win total last season in six starts — and Banks has a completely new disposition on camera. He has a slick pair of Persol sunglasses slung around his neck, acting much more poised in his answers to the media. In just six weeks, he has assumed the demeanor of a seasoned veteran who has led the Cornell football program for multiple years.
When asked, head coach David Archer ’05 has trouble explaining how his sophomore quarterback — who got the nod to start over two upperclassmen with a combined 33 games of playing experience — has been able to adapt so quickly to the collegiate environment. But at the end of the day, he believes it all boils down to a “football junkie’s” desire to improve.
“You can see him kind of growing in leadership each and every day,” Archer said. “I think that’s important. You want your quarterback to act like that no matter what class he is. It’s really nice to see him embrace that. He really loves being a quarterback.”
Perhaps no moment of Banks’ young career highlights his decision-making and poise as well as his game-winning drive against Colgate that resulted in a last-second touchdown, completing the epic comeback to secure a 3-0 start.
“I’ve got an amazing team around me — the receivers, the line — everyone around me,” Banks said. “We knew if we got the ball back, we were going to go down and punch it in. Our guys made great plays and we were as happy as can be to finish out on top.”
But as of late, some signs of Banks’ youth and inexperienced tendencies have come to light. After not throwing an interception in his first 62 pass attempts, Banks has thrown nine in the past four games against Colgate, Harvard, Sacred Heart and Brown.
As frustrating as that record may be, Banks stresses how important it is to not let that get to him and keep his eyes focused on the big picture.
“You got to have a short memory,” Banks said of his recent struggles. “You can’t be thinking about those kinds of things. It happens throughout the game. Sometimes you make a play, sometimes you make a [mistake]. You have to swallow it and go on and focus on the rest of the game.”
Getting the nod to lead the offense at such a young age was more eyebrow-raising given that the receiving core Banks would be throwing to was made up of almost exclusively seniors. Four out of Banks’ top five targets are seniors, including captains Matt Sullivan and Ben Rogers.
Despite the age gap, Banks’ and his receivers said they feel that his transition to quarterback has come gone smoothly and said their relationship has blossomed without hesitation.
“We all know we can lean on Dalton,” Sullivan said. “In the huddle we are looking to him for some confidence … that’s huge out of a quarterback of any class but as a sophomore it’s amazing.”
“We don’t even acknowledge the age gap, they’re all my brothers,” Banks added. “I feel like I can trust them with anything. I can go out and rely on them to make a play whenever we need it.”
His receivers not only like what they see at the current moment, but are also excited for what his success spells for his future.
“[Banks] keeps getting better and better and hopefully he can keep that going,” Rogers said. “His decision making is awesome, which is obviously what you’d like to see. I think he’s proven that he can pretty much make any throw on the field, which as a receiver is so much fun to be able to open up the play book and know that if you win on your route you’re going to get the ball from Dalton. I really don’t see anything limiting him this season.”
Banks was awarded the starting role after what he called a “great offseason competition.” An underclassman starting over established starters may cause a rift on some teams, but to go along with the theme of cohesion among the classes, Banks feels that mentorship from the older quarterbacks — junior Jake Jatis and senior Robert Somborn — has helped propel his game.
“They have been through it all, so I love having them there,” Banks said. “We have a great relationship and they are always there to help me out with anything. They push me in practice. Without those guys we wouldn’t be doing as well as we are.”
“That kind of experience is invaluable,” Archer added.
With all the mentorship and help at receiver, Banks’ season has been a bit back and forth. After starting incredibly strong and surpassing expectations, the sophomore has come back down to earth a bit. Despite the tough stretch, his confidence remains immutable.
“It sucks going on a losing streak, but we can’t think about the past,” he said. “We have to forget about it and be as confident as we can because we know we can go out and win games and be dominant. We have to go out and play confident and I think things will go our way.”
With four games left in the season — all against Ivy opponents — Banks is treating the final stretch like he treated the beginning: as a completely new season with endless opportunities remaining.
But this time, he’ll be standing tall in front of the camera with poise, not shying away at any question asked of him.