Don’t talk to Joe Banyard about the mind-over-matter mentality needed to deal with outdoor field conditions on the eve of December in Minnesota.
“We were doing two-a-days my freshman year at Sweetwater High School in Texas,” the Vikings running back said. “Coach had us out back by the old woodshed doing tackling drills. I tackled my teammate, and we fell on top of this rattlesnake.”
Finally, something potentially calamitous you’ll never see at Winter Park.
“We didn’t even realize we were on top of the snake at first,” Banyard said. “But as soon as we heard that rattler, we both popped up and shot out of there as fast as we could.”
If you’re having trouble picturing Banyard’s Great Snake Escape, take a look at some of his touches from last week’s 24-21 loss to the Packers at TCF Bank Stadium. In eight touches, including the first five carries of his NFL career, Banyard exploded for five of the team’s 20 first downs and three of its five third-down conversions.
There was a 6-yard run on third-and-2, an 8-yard run on third-and-2, a 6-yard catch on third-and-6 and plenty more evidence that the 5-10, 205-pound Banyard isn’t that bad for being the fifth back to touch the ball during Adrian Peterson’s lost season.
“I don’t want to say it was unexpected,” said Banyard, one of the team’s preseason standouts this season. “I practice every day for a reason.”
Once again, the running back situation is fluid as the 4-7 Vikings prepare to face the 3-7-1 Panthers at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday. Matt Asiata is back after missing a game because of a concussion, but rookie starter Jerick McKinnon is listed as doubtful and telling people he’s out because of a nagging lower back issue. Recently acquired Ben Tate might be up to speed enough to play in his second week with the team, but it’s quite possible that Banyard’s role will increase because coach Mike Zimmer sure sounds like a Banyard booster.
“He made plays,” Zimmer said. “He extended drives. I thought he showed some juice getting to the perimeter a couple of plays and was explosive hitting holes.”
It’s fitting that a question about field conditions led to Banyard telling a rattlesnake story. After all, Sweetwater, a little west Texas town, has been home to the world’s largest Rattlesnake Round-up since 1958. Roughly 30,000 visitors descend on the town of 11,415 on the second weekend of March every year.
“Being from there, that’s what you know,” Banyard said. “I guess you could say it’s our Super Bowl.”
Rounding up rattlesnakes might sound like, um, fun. But there are some life lessons that also can be learned.
“Basically, I was taught at a young age to ‘Cowboy Up,’ when it was time to go get the rattlesnakes,” Banyard said. “Age 7. My uncle, Jerry Bohall, pretty much started teaching me that, hey, you have to face your fears at some point. Better earlier than later.”
Avoiding mental errors?
“Well, No. 1, you don’t want to get bit,” Banyard said. “I wear the thick Carhartt jumpsuit and snake boots with the steep tips. Respect the snake and it won’t respect you. But if you take your time, I don’t think you’ll get bit. I haven’t been.”
“If you’re in the business, you’re going to get bit at some point,” Banyard said. “We carry the anti-venom shot. If you get bit, they tell you to stay calm. Easier said than done. I think you’ll be OK if you stay calm. Plus, it’s a small town. The hospital is not too far away.”
“Patience is big,” Banyard said. “The rattlesnakes are everywhere in west Texas. But you have to be patient. Bag ’em up, throw ’em in the truck and take ’em to auction.
“You’d be surprised how many people want them alive for pets. Some people want their skin. Some like to eat them. It sounds cliché, but they taste like chicken, although they have the consistency of fish because they’re bony.”
Banyard’s football career went from Sweetwater to Texas Christian to Texas-El Paso. Undrafted in 2012, he spent parts of that year with Jacksonville, New Orleans and the Vikings. He caught one pass for 11 yards in three games with the Vikings a year ago.
Sunday could be the biggest day of his career. Or the 26-year-old back could be just making a couple of piles of cash before hoping to put his forensic science degree to work as a special agent for the FBI.
And, either way, the next Rattlesnake Roundup is less than four months away.
“Shoot, hunting rattlesnakes is more dangerous than the NFL,” Banyard said. “I love playing football. It’s fun out here. It wouldn’t be that fun getting bit by a rattlesnake.”