The paths from Aliquippa to college football, the NFL and even the Pro Football Hall of Fame were blazed long ago.
Brandon Banks will play in college and hopes to one day reach those other lofty heights, but he has decided to take a road less traveled.
“I’m trying to create my own path,” said Banks, a soon-to-be senior at Aliquippa.
Banks is headed to the league … the Ivy League. Last Friday, Banks, a standout cornerback-wide receiver, made a verbal commitment to Yale.
Per Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield, Banks is believed to be the first Aliquippa student-athlete to go to an Ivy League school since Mark Lay, a 1981 Aliquippa graduate, played basketball at Columbia.
Banks (6 feet, 170 pounds) had more than two-dozen Division I offers, among them Ivy League schools Columbia, Dartmouth and Penn, as well as FBS schools Coastal Carolina and Toledo. Banks said he ultimately chose Yale over Ohio, the school to which teammate D.J. Walker has already given a verbal commitment.
“I like Yale because it’s one of the best schools in the world,” said Banks, who was recruited to be a defensive back. “I can get to the league playing there. And even if I don’t, I know that it will set me up for my career. It’s a win-win.”
A former Yale player with WPIAL ties reached the NFL just last season, as Central Catholic graduate Rodney Thomas was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts and had a excellent rookie season. The Bulldogs currently have one former WPIAL player on their roster. Former Upper St. Clair standout David Pantelis is a junior there and led Yale in receiving last season.
Banks had a strong junior season that saw him finish with 24 catches for 398 yards and six touchdowns. He also had four interceptions and forced a fumble for Aliquippa, which won the WPIAL Class 4A championship and advanced to the PIAA title game
You can bank on Banks having a strong senior season on and off the field. He has not only put lots of work into football but also in the classroom. Banks is an outstanding student who boasts a 4.2 GPA. He called “Mr. Russell’s pre-calculus class” his favorite class.
“My mom never wanted me to get any C’s,” said Banks, who is thinking about majoring in business.
Banks said that Yale began recruiting him toward the end of his sophomore year. He visited the school for the first time last month with his parents, Leah and Brandon, and said that what he saw exceeded all of his expectations.
“I thought it was going to be all nerdy. I don’t know,” Banks said, laughing.
Banks said he fell in love with the school, which is located in New Haven, Conn. The football program is strong, as well. Tony Reno, who took over as head coach in 2012, guided the Bulldogs to the Ivy League title last season.
Banks said he hopes his decision to play in the Ivy League opens some eyes and leads other Aliquippa players to do the same in the future.
Said Banks, “It just shows that Aliquippa isn’t just athletes. It’s student-athletes.”
A pair of WPIAL standouts in different sports picked up their first offers this month, and they both came from Saint Francis. Central Catholic senior quarterback Payton Wehner and Peters Township senior guard Gemma Walker both received offers. Wehner passed for 2,504 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, while Walker averaged 20 points per game.
Also receiving her first offer recently was South Fayette sophomore basketball player Juliette “JuJu” Leroux. A 5-foot-11 forward, Leroux was offered by Duquesne and a few weeks later picked up an offer from Elon. Leroux is quite familiar with Elon, as her sister, Ava, will be a freshman on the Elon basketball team this upcoming season.
Another West A Miller to the SEC
Speaking of familiar faces, West Allegheny baseball standout Brady Miller will likely see one when his school takes on a certain fellow SEC program in 2025. Miller could go head to head with his older brother. Miller, a senior shortstop, gave a verbal commitment to Oklahoma, which will compete in the SEC beginning in the 2024-25 academic year. Miller’s brother, Gavin, is a sophomore infielder at Auburn.
Hempfield’s Ethan Minerva (California); North Catholic’s Blake Primrose (St. Joseph’s); Seneca Valley’s Creed Erdos (James Madison).
Bishop Canevin’s Michael Vaughn (Grove City); Penn-Trafford’s Olivia Pepple (Gannon); South Fayette’s Lainey Yater (Saginaw Valley State).
Avonworth’s Brandon Biagiarelli (Bucknell); North Allegheny’s Daniel Sellers (Richmond).
Yough’s Kendalyn Umbel (Youngstown State).