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WVU FOOTBALL: Banks unlikely hero for receiving corps

West Virginia’s Kevin White hauls in a pass while defended by Icky Banks during the Mountaineers’ spring game in April. Banks was suspended by the NCAA and missed WVU’s first three games this season, but was allowed to practice with the team.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Clint Trickett ranks third nationally with 400 passing yards per game, and the West Virginia quarterback has the second-best completion percentage (by one-tenth of one point) among those who have attempted at least 100 passes.

Receiver Kevin White is No. 2 in receiving yards per game and No. 3 in receptions per game. According to cfbstats.com, no one has more receptions covering 15 or more yards (15) or 25 or more yards (seven).

West Virginia’s most valuable player through four games might not be either one of them and could instead be someone who has only played three games.

Fifth-year senior cornerback Icky Banks was the scout team cornerback during practice for the first three games and routinely made things difficult for Trickett, White and receiver Mario Alford.

“We’d be watching film and it would be, like, ‘Dang, he keeps making plays. But wait, that’s also our starting cornerback. He’s expected to do that,’ ” Trickett said. “He made us better the three weeks he was out.”

The NCAA suspended Banks, from Richmond, Virginia, by way of Hargrave (Va.) Academy, for the first three games of the season for an eligibility matter, but Banks was allowed to practice with the team. He ended up practicing against the offense instead of with the defense.

Banks, who started all 12 games last season and was again vying for a starting spot before he was sidelined late in the preseason, was not the typical scout team cornerback. Scout team players are typically spare parts like walk-ons, redshirts, transfers and players who don’t play much.

“Icky’s smart,” White said. “If I tip my body one way or the other, he picks up on it really fast. He trash talks a little bit and he’s very hands on. That’s the difference.”

Alabama, Maryland and Oklahoma could each have all-conference cornerbacks by the end of the season, and coach Dana Holgorsen said Kansas has “two senior cornerbacks who are as good as any corners that I’ve seen.” The Mountaineers (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) play host to the Jayhawks (2-2, 1-2 Big 12) at 4 p.m. Saturday on ROOT Sports.

Quality cornerbacks are nothing new to the offense, though.

“It was a plus having him over there, no doubt,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “You want your scout team to be as good as possible, and when you’ve got guys in situations like that, when you’ve got basically a starter over there on the scout team, he gives you great looks. I don’t think it’s understating things at all to say he helped.”

Banks couldn’t travel to Atlanta for the season opener against Alabama or the win at Maryland, and while he was out he watched junior Terrell Chestnut secure a starting spot that probably wouldn’t have been available if Banks had stayed out of trouble.

Banks was determined to make things right as soon as he could, and that meant it had to happen on the scout team, which is a place most veterans want to avoid. When the suspension was over, Holgorsen praised Banks for his attitude and said Banks remained an asset outside of games.

“The mental part is most important,” Banks said. “If I would have gone out there and had a nonchalant attitude and slacked off, I probably wouldn’t have been able to step in and play at a high level against Oklahoma. I had to tell myself, ‘You got yourself into this, you’ve got to do the time. Do this time and you’ll be back.’ I had to keep myself motivated and keep a positive attitude.”

Banks was eligible to play against the Sooners, and that came along at the right time. WVU was without starter Daryl Worley, who remains indefinitely suspended following an arrest for battery. Fifth-year senior Travis Bell, who was a starter with Banks last season, missed a second straight game and retired two days after the loss.

Banks not only started and made five tackles, but he played all 79 snaps and 30 pass plays, a product of staying in game shape with the scout team.

“It was better than I thought it was going to be,” Banks said. “Honestly, I thought I was going to need backup, but I was OK.”

White ended up catching 10 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown against Oklahoma’s Zack Sanchez, who was first-team all-conference in the media’s preseason vote. White has at least nine receptions and 101 yards in all four games.

“I can’t take credit for that,” Banks said. “He’s a great player. He was a great player before he got here (from Pennsylvania’s Lackawanna College), but he’s just gotten better. I guess I would say I challenged him more during practice to make him to work even harder, but that’s all him. It’s all him.”

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TRICKETT’S LEFT ankle got needed rest during the off week. It was severely swollen in the days following the loss to Oklahoma and remains heavily taped. Trickett called it a precaution and said he’s having no issues after he was hit by “that damn Striker” — outside linebacker Eric Striker, who sacked Trickett on the second play of the game.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.