Q&A with Utah State Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach Ephraim Banda

LOGAN, Utah – Passionate, excited and energetic.

Those are the words that Utah State first-year defensive coordinator and safeties coach Ephraim Banda uses to describe his ideal style of defense. Those are also words that could be used to describe Banda’s method of coaching, as well as his approach to life in general.

Though he’s only been coaching for just over a decade, Banda has climbed the ladder fast, while coaching in a bowl game every year of his career. Most recently, he spent five seasons at Miami (2016-20), where he started as the safeties coach and eventually took on the role of co-defensive coordinator, as well, in 2019.

During the 2020 campaign, Banda helped coordinate a Hurricanes defense that led the Atlantic Coast Conference in yards per pass attempt (6.75), and ranked fourth nationally in tackles for loss (8.6 per game), 16th in fumbles recovered (9) and 33rd in sacks (2.73 pg). Miami finished the season with an 8-3 record, including a 7-2 ACC mark, and played in the Cheez-It Bowl.

In the past two recruiting cycles, Banda has landed the No. 1-ranked safety in the nation in James Williams from American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla., in the 2021 class, and Avantae Williams of DeLand (Fla.) High School in 2020.

Following the 2020 season, Banda was named one of the top 25 recruiters in the nation by Rivals.com.

After his playing career as a safety at Incarnate Word ended in 2010, it didn’t take Banda long to enter the coaching world. He joined the staff of his alma mater in 2011 as a student assistant while finishing up his bachelor’s degree in sports management. Banda then earned a master’s degree in sports management, while spending three seasons as a defensive graduate assistant at Texas (2012-14). In 2014, Banda’s assistance to the defensive staff guided the Longhorns to the nation’s 25th-best ranking in total defense (348.5 yards allowed per game).

Banda then spent the 2015 season as a defensive assistant at Mississippi State for head coach Dan Mullen and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, where he helped the Bulldogs to a 9-4 record and a victory against North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl. The Bulldogs’ defensive unit held opponents to just 23.2 points per game and ranked in the nation’s top 10 in red zone defense. In addition, MSU led the nation in fewest pass plays of 20-plus yards allowed in 2015, surrendering only 24.

We recently caught up with Banda for a Q&A.

Q: What have the first few months on the job been like, and what has the transition been like?

Banda: It’s been really good. It’s actually gone a lot better than I thought. Obviously, it’s not coach (Blake) Anderson’s first rodeo, so he knew what to expect and prepared us really well. I’ve been really excited about the community and how nice people are here. The kids have been pleasant to work with and they’ve been willing. They’re hungry, there’s a chip on their shoulder, which always makes it a little easier, because they’re always willing to do whatever is asked and they’re trying to please coaches and do it exactly the way that they’ve been coached to. I’m really excited.

Q: What is your defensive staff like?

Banda: For me, the defensive staff has been awesome. Bringing in two guys that I’ve had with me before has been a big help with Mike Zuckerman and Alex Devine. Those guys understand exactly what I want and how it should look. They’re also resources for me on things that I have questions on. They’ve been awesome, they’ve been a big help and support. Having a guy like Nick Paremski, who has been a defensive coordinator before and has spent time with coach Anderson, he’s given me a perspective and also given me a heads up on what to do and what not to do. That’s been a blessing for sure. His knowledge of how to do things has been a big help for me. Al Lapuaho has been absolutely amazing in terms of just helping me understand the culture, the way things have been done in the past, making sure I don’t step on landmines and understand things that I may or may not have known that were there before. He has a great knack for really pushing his guys, especially since he was in the weight room last year, he has a different relationship with them. He gets after them and he holds them to a high standard of accountability. Ray Brown has been just an absolute blessing. His knowledge and his teaching progression of corner play has been awesome to see as he starts to develop it and is continuing to put it in. I like what we’re doing there. Overall, I’m super pleased. Our support staff has been super urgent and done everything I’ve asked. Ethan Morris, who came over with coach Anderson, I couldn’t ask for a better guy in terms of a GA right now.

Q: Why was Utah State the right fit for you?

Banda: There are a lot of reasons. Utah State was the right fit for me because one, the head coach. I knew that being a first-time defensive coordinator I needed someone that was going to support me and give me the space I needed, but also give me an open door to go in and speak with him on things and talk about questions I have. At the same time, he’s been awesome and open with me and has made me feel very comfortable, which has allowed me to be more of myself. It also was the right fit for me because when I watched the film from them a year ago, I know it was rough, but I saw a lot of tough kids. I saw kids playing really hard and I saw kids who cared. I also saw a program that had some toughness to it. In terms of a fit for my family, it was definitely a fit. It’s a very family-oriented town and the people are amazing. My daughter has had an absolute blast so far. There are parks on every corner for her to run and play on, so overall it’s been a great fit. I was able to put together a great staff that really supports me in the way that I need.

Q: What are your priorities for the Aggie defense during spring practice?

Banda: I’ve told our staff and our head coach that my number one goal is to become experts at tackling. We are a rugby shoulder-tackling team. We’re going to leverage the ball on the proper shoulder. It’s different and it’s new to our kids, but that is our main focus. How we track the ball and how hard we run to it, that was my 1a, 2a and 3a. My next goal for us as a staff was to have a working knowledge of each thing we do defensively. I don’t want them to know the whole playbook yet, but I do want them to have a good understanding of the basics, so that way when we start adding new things, they already know what family it fits in and how to do it.

Q: Can you give Aggie fans an idea on what they will see on the field from the defense come next fall?

Banda: I think the biggest thing I want them to see is passion and excitement. I want them to see a group that plays extremely hard and takes it personally when they don’t. I want them to see a group that’s really excited and has a lot of passion for each other when big plays happen. I want them to see an active group of guys at every level, whether it’s the front and the disruption that we cause, whether it’s our linebackers running side-to-side or forward, or whether it’s our secondary setting edges, tackling and attacking the ball in the air. My main goal is for our fans to see a group of guys that plays extremely hard, that are very passionate, and that have a true sense of urgency to them.

Q: What excites you the most when talking about this team and preparing for games this fall?

Banda: The thing that has stuck out the most early is our front. I am very pleased with the talent, the ability and the coaching that they’re getting right now. I think we’re going to be a really big problem up front with the tackles and the depth that we have there. I’m seeing that we have some ends who can really play. We overhauled it a little bit in the offseason with transfers and guys we brought in and guys who have been here. I think that for the guys who were here, transitioning to a new style of play up front, really benefits them a lot. For me, I’m really excited to see how we do up front against competition in our league. With our style of play and our talent, I think we could be a problem.

Q: Can Aggie fans expect an aggressive style of defense?

Banda: Aggie fans should expect a very aggressive group. We are not going to just sit there and be a punching bag, we’re going to be constantly moving. We’re not going to move and play forward, we want to be very deceptive, we want to show a look and bring something different, and then actually show that look. We want to keep offensive coordinators and offensive linemen off-kilter. We want them constantly guessing, not too sure what we’re doing, which in turn makes it really hard to call plays against us. That creates uncertainty, which slows people down, whether it’s an offensive lineman, offensive coordinator, receiver, all those things. If people slow down, we can play faster and we can be more urgent and attack more. We’ll attack, we’re not going to be sitting back, we’re going to try and make it as hard as we can for them to call plays against us.

Q: What got you into coaching and why do you enjoy it so much?

Banda: What got me into coaching was truly the love for the game and the competition. I’ve always enjoyed it. The competition was actually what got me into it, then once I got into coaching, I loved seeing the progression of players on and off the field. Nothing gets me more excited than graduation day when a young man comes in who has come a long way for whatever reason, but to see him walk across the stage and get a college degree, that really warms my heart and gives me a feeling inside that is hard to explain. You get a lot of satisfaction and a lot of joy. On the field, nothing’s better than seeing a kid’s light go on as he figures it out, and as he does figure that out, to see his play just accelerate. His awareness of his issues that cause him to be a bad player, when he’s able to be aware and identify those things and eliminate those, it’s really fun. That’s why you do it. For me, that’s it. The last thing that I’ve learned over the years from Manny Diaz, is putting together a good staff that you enjoy coaching with and competing with and being in that foxhole with every day. That really does make the job, if you want to call it a job, really fun. We have a great staff here.

Q: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not coaching football?

Banda: I’ve recently picked up skiing. I’d never skied before, then moved to Utah with the greatest snow on earth, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I was pretty bad early, and I took a lot of shots from coach Anderson on social media and around the office, but what he doesn’t know is that I don’t like being bad at anything, so I hit it hard every weekend and really improved. So, that’s been a hobby that I’ve picked up and gotten a lot better at. It’s a lot harder than it looks, and it’s hard to master, but I’ve got a functional knowledge of it. Other hobbies for me are fishing. I love fishing and look forward to finding new areas to fish around here. Also, it’s not a hobby, but I just enjoy spending time with my wife and daughter, and just watching her run around and be her, that’s probably one of my very favorite things to do.

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