Looking ahead to next month’s Touchdown Dinner celebration, presented by Trinity Development Group, uOttawa is pleased to profile each of its new Football Hall of Fame Inductees, starting with the 1989 CIS Rookie of the Year, Christopher Banton.
“You can almost feel the rain,” Banton says. That’s how the old stories feel when told amongst team mates. “Even though they’ve aged, they look the same in your eyes.” That kind of connection and memory heighten the accomplishments of the All-Canadian cornerback, who owes his career at uOttawa to a fortuitous meeting at an Ottawa movie theatre. He tells that story with detail so clear and with such appreciation for what it spurred in his life you can almost smell the popcorn.
The track and field star from Bell High School whose first sporting love was basketball decided to take in a movie one fortunate day in the summer of 1989. Standing in the foyer, the five-foot-five-and-a-half-inch future Gee-Gee noticed that he was being observed. “Mike Morris recognized me. He was staring at me while I was getting my popcorn, and he came and asked me what my plans were. I had no plans.”
Head coach Jim Daly called him the next day. And so it was that Banton arrived at training camp as a walk-on. “I was a running back and they turned me into just a machine on DB. I was blessed with good coaches.” Banton had been a running back, just like his older brother whom he wore the number 18 jersey after as well.
That August, the injuries started to pile up and Banton rose up the depth chart. A sign of things to come emerged in Ottawa’s exhibition game when the rookie took off for a punt return touchdown with no one even close to catching him. It was called back due to a clipping penalty, but many more would follow.
“My defining moment in most people’s eyes was playing Queen’s… and I had no idea what was happening,” laughs Banton. In the first game of the regular season that would see Ottawa advance all the way to the Dunsmore Cup, the rookie started at cornerback. That was remarkable enough, but unbeknownst to Banton he was assigned coverage of All-Canadian wideout Jock Climie. The same Climie who would be named the Hec Crighton winner later that season faced down Ottawa’s rookie sensation.
“The coaches didn’t want me to know who I was covering. I came in all big-eyed and the other teams went after me, testing me. How could you not?”
Shutting down Climie, Banton recorded two interceptions and three knock-downs that day and was officially on the radar. He would go on to collect All-Canadian awards of his own in 1991 and 1993.
“No one in the country was more dominant at either corner back or punt return throughout Chris’ five years,” said team mate Tom Casagrande. “Every time he stepped on the field he was a threat to make a big play.”
“His excellent run-support and hardnosed tackling ability earned him the respect of his team mates, truly making him one of the best all around football players in Gee-Gee history,” sums up Steve Cook, who roomed with Banton and is noted as one of his best blockers.
“His punt returns were the thing of legends… viral before there was viral!” said quarterback Wayne Jacobs, who is now a coaching partner of Banton’s.
“I never realized my size. It’s what I am,” says Banton. “I was known as a quiet one, until you put a ball in my hand. Then people said whaaaaaat just happened? Action is better than words and sometimes you need to fear the quiet one.”
Banton logged 1309 career punt return yards, leading the nation in his final season with 573 yards. He still holds the uOttawa record for interceptions in a career with 15. His career records in both categories were hampered by a knee injury in his sophomore season.
“That injury taught me humility. It grounded me and made me enjoy the brotherhood of the team even more. When I came in I was one of two rookies to stick. We acted as a bridge between a veteran team and the next generation, and I think we started to make some noise and put the program back on the map. There is a tradition here. When I showed up I bought in and tried to extend that. It is quite an honour to actually be a Gee-Gee.”
“The greatest testament to Chris is the respect and admiration he has always had from his team mates,” added Casagrande, one of the supporters who nominated Banton for induction.
After University, Banton signed with the Toronto Argonauts before leading the FFFA in France in rushing yards, all-purpose yards, touchdowns, and defensive touchdowns. He now works as a trainer for young athletes.
The Touchdown Dinner, presented by Trinity Development Group, returns to the Château Laurier on April 30 to honour the accomplishments of Banton and fellow national award winners Mike Fabiilli and Brad Sinopoli. Tickets are on sale online for $150 each with tables of 10 available. Registration is open to all alumni, family, and friends of the Gee-Gees football program. The registration deadline is April 22.