Former South Carolina State and West Virgina State head football coach Oree Banks has been named the American Football Coaches Association’s recipient of the 2016 Trailblazer Award. The award was presented at the AFCA Honors Luncheon at the 2017 AFCA Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
The AFCA Trailblazer Award was created to honor early leaders in the football coaching profession who coached at historically black colleges and universities. Past Trailblazer Award winners include Charles Williams of Hampton (2004), Cleve Abbott of Tuskegee (2005), Arnett Mumford of Southern (2006), Billy Nicks of Prairie View A&M (2007), Alonzo “Jake” Gaither of Florida A&M (2008), Fred “Pops” Long of Wiley (2009), Harry R. “Big Jeff” Jefferson of Bluefield State (2010), Edward P. Hurt of Morgan State (2011), Vernon “Skip” McCain of Maryland-Eastern Shore (2012), Marino Casem of Alcorn State (2013), Gideon Smith of Hampton (2014) and Eddie Robinson of Grambling State (2015). The award is given each year to a person that coached in a particular decade ranging from 1920-1970. This year’s winner coached from 1960 to 1970.
“I am very humbled by this recognition and I am blessed to be honored by my peers,” said Banks.
Banks graduated from high school in Newton, Mississippi, and immediately volunteered in the U.S. Army, where he served in a field artillery battalion and with the Army Medical Corps as a lab technician. While he was in the Army, Banks boxed, ran track and played on his post’s football team, developing a reputation as a strong player. After his tour with the Army and a year spent at Indiana University, Banks attended Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas, where he played defensive end and lettered for the Wildcats from 1956 to 1958. He earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Kansas State.
In 1960, Banks became the head coach at Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale, Mississippi. For four seasons, Banks led the Tigers to a 27-7-1 record as the team won or shared the Southern Intercollegiate Conference each of those seasons. Along with his duties as football coach, Banks was also athletic director and instructor at the school. Following his time at Coahoma, Banks was brought on as an assistant coach by the legendary Eddie Robinson at Grambling State University.
Following his stint at Grambling, Banks went on to become the head coach at South Carolina State University in 1965. In his first three seasons with the Bulldogs, Banks guided his team to a 22-4 record and coached breakout stars such as R.C. Gamble and James Johnson, who would go on to play for the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively. Banks also received NAIA and SIAC Coach of the Year honors for his 1965 season. After his time at South Carolina State, Banks was an assistant coach at South Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin before getting the call from West Virginia State University to head their program in 1977.
Banks arrived at West Virginia State as both a head coach and associate professor and immediately went to work. In only his second season with the team, Banks would lead the Yellow Jackets to their first winning season since 1969. The following year, Banks would guide West Virginia State to a West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Southern Division title and earn a berth in the Coal Bowl. Banks helped players achieve success that they had not previously known, setting school records that stand to this day. His teams enjoyed four winning seasons during his seven years as head coach. Banks stayed on at West Virginia State as an associate professor after coaching his final football game, a job that he still holds today in the Health and Human Performance department at the school.
In addition to being recognized as the 2016 AFCA Trailblazer Award recipient, Banks has received many honors for his illustrious career. During his time with WVSU, Banks received the Johnny Vaught Lifetime Achievement Award, a Citation of Honor from the Football Writers Association of America and served on the AFCA Board of Trustees. He was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame in 1995, the WVSU Club Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, the Coahoma Community College and Mississippi Community College Foundation Sports Hall of Fame in 2013 and the Newton Vocational/N.H. Pilate High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.