BURIEN — If you talk to Kennedy Catholic offensive lineman Micah Banuelos away from the football field, you’ll probably walk away with a smile. His teammates and coaches all seem to agree, the 6-foot-3 inch, 290-pound USC football commit is a sweetheart, a “teddy bear” in the words of Lancers coach Sheldon Cross.
But Banuelos becomes a whole new person when he steps onto the football field — Jekyll-and-Hyde style. During games, he is a meaner, nastier, physically dominant version of himself and someone who opposing defensive linemen have learned to fear.
“Micah, he’s one of the most kindhearted people I know in school.” Lancers senior wide receiver Mason Hayes said. “On the field, he is a terror to play against. I never got to play against him until high school, but I can see his intensity. He’s always playing to the whistle, he always has that heart in him, and he never wants to lose.”
Pancake blocks are a common occurrence, and his style of play is so physical and violent, Cross says, that he has had to ask Banuelos to ease up on his teammates in practice so everyone can be healthy come game time.
“The ammo I’ve always played with is that the person across from me, like it’s kind of disrespectful that they decided today they would line up across from me,” Banuelos said. ”My goal is to either put them on the floor or just stop them from touching my (quarterback). That’s all I live by.”
It became apparent quickly that Banuelos was going to be a different kind of player. Senior running back and linebacker Xe’ Ree Alexander has played with Banuelos since peewee football, and has seen him dominate opponents every step of the way.
One oft-used word when describing Banuelos’ talent is “amazing.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty amazed,” Alexander said. “I’m always going against him at practice, and it’s amazing what he can do, and then his leadership is amazing.”
Banuelos made a strong first impression his freshman year, so much so that offensive-line coach Pat Jones told Cross that Banuelos should make his first start in the team’s 2019 playoff game against Woodinville.
In front of a big crowd in an exciting postseason atmosphere, Banuelos had his breakout day and made it clear that he was going to be a “big-time player.”
“He was nothing but great since then,” Cross said. “Every single time he practices, every single time we have a game or a scrimmage or anytime we play the game of football, he just wows us every time.”
Coming into this season, Banuelos was ranked by 247Sports.com as the state’s third-best overall player in the Class of 2023 and the 28th-best offensive line prospect in the country.
In late July, he chose USC over rival suitors such as Oregon, Washington, Texas A&M and Nebraska partly because of the program’s impending move to the Big Ten, and the strong relationship he built with USC coach Lincoln Riley and offensive line coach Josh Henson during the recruiting process. But that doesn’t mean it was an easy choice.
“To be honest, Oregon, they were close,” Banuelos said. “But for Lincoln Riley to come from Oklahoma and bring some of the dudes that he’s coached and for him to bring the USC program (from) what it was a couple of years ago, it shows a lot. The type of person he is and the type of coach he is as well.”
The main things the Trojans loved about Banuelos, according to Cross, was his tenacity, positive personality and his outstanding athleticism. It also helps that USC and Kennedy Catholic both run the Air Raid offense, making the adjustment to college ball easier for Banuelos.
“He is unbelievably athletic,” Cross said. “I’ve heard from multiple college coaches throughout the country, and he is right there with the best, the most athletic O-lineman that they have honestly evaluated. … He can move, he’s got great feet. He can get out on screens. He can run 25, 30 yards downfield and block somebody. He’s a fantastic athlete.
“He’s by far the most athletic lineman that I’ve ever coached.”
A major-college football commitment is a huge accomplishment for any player, but Banuelos’ coaches don’t think he will stop there.
“They think he can be an NFL guy,” Cross said. “Coach Riley and those guys, Coach Henson the offensive line coach, they have a great track record of sending guys to the NFL, and so it’s been a great fit for him.”
Banuelos has a lot to look forward to in his football future, but he has plenty to do before turning his focus to college ball, as he and his Kennedy Catholic (9-1) teammates will play Richland (6-4) in the first round of the state football playoffs this Saturday.
In the spring of 2021, Kennedy Catholic put up a perfect 6-0 record to finish the COVID-delayed season as the No. 25 ranked team in the country, but never got the chance to play for a state championship as the playoffs were canceled because of the pandemic.
That year still eats at the Kennedy Catholic seniors, who see it as a missed opportunity for the program and their former teammates who will always have to wonder “what if?”
For this year’s Lancers, the state playoffs are a chance to right that wrong.
“We feel like that team was robbed of a chance to just play in the tournament and go win the whole thing and we did everything but hoist the trophy,” Cross said. “Those seniors in the class of ‘21 … they put in so much work and they were great leaders and great people, and so these guys really want to be the ones that fulfill something.”