FRISCO, Texas -- Some seven or eight months ago, there were no guarantees that Ben Banogu would back at TCU in 2018. The DFW native had just concluded a breakout season as one of the Big 12’s most fearsome pass rushers, and Banogu’s NFL Draft stock was on an upward trajectory.
Gary Patterson easily could have lost one of his biggest assets on defense from last season. Instead, Banogu is now back for one more ride as a Horned Frog this fall as a senior. He enters it riding preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Honors, and with a newfound responsibility as a leader on a unit that has been a staple of excellence both at TCU and in the Big 12.
“I’m really excited for this year,” Banogu said. “I’ve been in the film room kind of picking Coach P’s brain -- what he’s thinking and seeing. Coming back to TCU can only help me.”
If you mentioned Banogu’s name one year ago, players, coaches and media from across the league would have an entirely different reaction than was the case on Monday at the Star in Frisco. The former Louisiana-Monroe transfer had yet to play a game in a TCU uniform after sitting out the 2016 due to NCAA transfer policies.
Of course, it didn’t take long for Banogu to establish himself in 2017 with some bone-crushing hits against the likes of West Virginia quarterback Will Grier and former Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph over the first 5 games on the calendar. But his rapid rise to prominence within the Big 12 and beyond is hard to overlook.
Banogu was by no means a blue-chip prospect. He missed a significant portion of his junior year at Prosper High School due to a broken leg and only had a 2-star rating from the 247Sports composite when he committed to Louisiana-Monroe. It’s not something which Banogu rejoiced about at the time, but now he’s able to see the long-term good.
“I think [my recruitment situation] only added to chips on my shoulder,” Banogu said. “I’m here now and I kind of made a name for myself.”
With his name made, Banogu is now part of the long list of players who may not have been the elusive 5-star recruit everyone sought, but were correctly recognized by Patterson as having the potential for greatness -- even if the numbers weren’t flashy.
“Coach P gets guys who he wants -- who he can mold and fit his defense,” Banogu said. “Yeah I wasn’t recruited high, but I’m doing it.”
Now, Banogu is the defensive veteran that Patterson & Co. envisioned him to be -- a group that includes linebacker and fellow senior Ty Summers among others. He’s more than ready to take charge of the task at hand, but not without ensuring that he has the right mentality entering the first weekend of September.
“It’s not what they say now, it’s what they say in December and January,” Banogu said. “That’s when it matters the most because they see your whole body of work throughout the year, and yeah, they [praised you] in the preseason and you validated it.”
It doesn’t stop there. Despite the attention Banogu has received, there’s no “I” in team. That’s something that he’s fully aware of as he seeks to maintain the chemistry that paid so many dividends a year ago.
“It’s a huge compliment to me, but I couldn’t be considered for any of [the honors] without my teammates,” Banogu said. “During the big hit on Will Grier during the West Virginia game, a lot of people think I just saw a hole and ran around, but it was a set play.”
In case you’re wondering what Banogu did against the preseason Heisman contender when the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers met last October, here’s a visual reminder.
“It just so happened that Mat [Boesen] and Ty [Summers] both got the quarterback to step in and I was able to make a play,” Banogu said of the play. “On the back end there was nobody open and nobody to throw to.”
Plays like those are exactly what the TCU coaching staff will be looking for again this season to pave the way. And for that reason, it’s hard to stress enough just how critical Banogu’s return is for the Horned Frogs in 2018.
So what went into Banogu’s decision to head back to Fort Worth rather than pursue a professional career? The student-experience at TCU isn’t the only factor, but Banogu said it was a highly-influential one.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever stepped foot on campus, but it’s a beautiful campus and there are great people,” Banogu said. “When you’re around great people who can guide you and teach you and make you a better person -- not so much just a better football player -- that’s something you have to cherish.”
And Patterson knows just how much of a selling point that experience can be — the chance to be a champion both on the field and in the everyday world.
“As general rule kids come in knowing that you’re going to work hard and we want you because of class sizes, we want you to get a degree, not just talk about it,” Patterson said. “We don’t have many on online classes. If you’re going to be in speech class you’re going to have to give speeches. I tell them knowledge is power.”
The peaceful setting on campus, of course, is a sharp contrast from the grind that players routinely experience under Patterson during practices and on Saturdays. But while there is the “Coach P” side to Patterson on the field, there’s also the father-figure side of him off the field -- something that Banogu and his teammates cherish.
“Outside of football, he’s ‘Gary,’” Banogu said. “He can play the guitar, he’s really sociable, and an all around great person that you want to be around. In practice, he’s ‘Coach P.’ He’s intense and he wants the best from you.”
And adding to the list of factors that have helped mold Banogu into a formidable playmaker is that that intensity that Patterson brings to practices.
Eighty percent is never good enough [for Patterson] and it’s never good enough for us,” Banogu said. “You want a coach that is as fired up as you are to go out and play, and that’s one thing that I love about him.”
With 49 tackles and 8.5 sacks in the books last year — his first playing at the Power 5 level — it’s quite clear that Banogu didn’t settle for anything less than 100 percent. It was enough to earn him First-Team All-Big 12 and Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Honors.
With that experience now under his belt, the potential for Banogu in 2018 is seemingly unlimited. And that sets up for what should be an incredible final chapter of a short, yet inspiring run in Fort Worth for a man that has become a role model for so many.
“For the guys who aren’t getting recruited right now, I tell them to be patient and stick to the process.”
It worked for Banogu. And with the recent trends, it’s near certain that he won’t be the last success story of such at TCU.