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NFL linebacker Brian Banks was recently exonerated after serving five years in prison and five years probation for a rape that he did not commit. On Wednesday, he cried tears of joy while signing with the Atlanta Falcons. 

At age 17, Banks was ranked 11th in the country as middle linebacker and was committed to play Division 1 football for the University of Southern California until a false conviction of rape turned his life completely around. 

In 2002, a friend accused Banks of raping and kidnapping her and in order to reduce a possible 41-year sentence to a 5-year sentence, Banks pleaded no contest. 

“Banks was faced with an impossible decision at the time — either fight the charges and risk spending 41 years to life in prison, or take a plea deal and spend a little over five years of actual prison confinement,” says the California Innocence Project on it’s website. “Although it would mean destroying his chance to go to college and play football, a lengthy probationary period, and a lifetime of registration as a sex offender, Banks chose the lesser of two evils when he pleaded no contest to the charges.”

In addition, probation guidelines stated that Banks could not live within 2,000 feet of a school and had to wear a GPS tracking device to ensure that he did not leave the state. 

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One day, he received a friend request on Facebook from the woman to blame for all of his misfortunes. 

“She was hoping that we could allow bygones to be bygones,” Banks told 60 Minutes. 

After hiring a private detective and meeting with the woman a few times, Banks was able to tape a retraction in which the woman stated, “No, he did not rape me.”

On May 24, 2012, he was exonerated by the same judge that convicted him years earlier. 

Two weeks later, he recieved a call from athletic trainer Jay Glazer. 

“He had a lot of room to make up,” Glazer said. “I just tried to convince him that he had already pushed himself way more than we could push him physically. If being incarcerated for something he didn’t do couldn’t break him, then nothing we could ever do to him on the field or in the training room could break him.”

Banks continued working hard and a little after the start of the 2012-2013 season, the Atlanta Falcons invited him to try out. 

On Wednesday, he signed with the team. 

“We are pleased to have Brian join our team,” said Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff. “We had a chance to work him out last year and have been monitoring his progress since then. He has worked extremely hard for this chance over the last year and he has shown us that he is prepared for this opportunity. We are happy that Brian will have a chance to live out his dream of playing in the NFL, and we look forward to seeing him on the field.”

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Banks is 6’2″ and 250 lbs, and extremely excited to be returning back to the gridiron. 

“It’s been a long road. It’s been a lot of hard work. It is 10 years missing in my football career,” he said, “but there has been a lot of work put in to making up for it.”

Congratulations Brian!

SOURCE: ABC/CNN