Brian Banks' dream of playing in an NFL game came true Thursday night when walked into the huddle with his Atlanta Falcons teammates in the fourth quarter of a pre-season game -- the high-point of Banks' football career after it was derailed by a false rape accusation.
San Diego-based California Innocence Project and the California Western School of Law in San Diego helped challenge the rape conviction of Banks last year.
Banks was a highly recruited star at Long Beach Poly High School more than a decade ago before a classmate accused of him rape. He spent five years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
On Thursday, he entered the game against Cincinnati at linebacker with about eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
A post on Banks' twitter account before the game read, "Game Day. Never thought this day would come. And if it all ended here tonight... Mom, I did it."
Banks had verbally committed to play for coach Pete Carroll at USC in 2002 before his conviction. He also spent five years on probation and had to register as a sex offender because of the accusations, which the classmate later recanted.
Banks also met with the San Diego Chargers but eventually landed with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the now-defunct UFL.
He signed with the Falcons, last year's NFC South champions, during the 2013 off-season. The Falcons have three more pre-season games before the team must cut its roster down to 53 players.
Banks maintained his innocence after he was accused of sexually assaulting a classmate in a school stairwell when he was 16 years old, but accepted a plea deal on the advice of his lawyer. Banks said the attorney told him he would face 41 years to life in prison if he did not accept the deal.
Banks' journey to Thursday's NFL debut was made possible by a hidden-camera confession from his accuser, who sent Banks a Facebook friend request after his release from prison. The accuser told Banks she wanted to "let bygones be bygones."
Banks called a private investigator, who elicited the confession from the accuser who was later ordered to pay $2.6 million in restitution for a settlement she had received in connection with Banks' conviction.