Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary's Dante Booker, back, watches as Travonte Junius, right, strips the ball from Bellevue quarterback Jalen Santoro in the fourth quarter of the Division III state high school football championship in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012.
AKRON, Ohio — He’s built more like an NFL linebacker than a kid two weeks from high school graduation, was Ohio’s Mr. Football last fall and is less than a month from enrolling and beginning his football career at Ohio State.
In one play last Friday, all of Dante Booker Jr.’s potential was on display.
On the baseball field.
Playing in a sectional championship game for St. Vincent-St. Mary, Booker hit a pitch high into the North Akron clouds, and the way the Revere center fielder turned and started sprinting backwards, Booker thought he’d hit his first home run of the season. The ball was hit so far that as he approached first base, St. V-M first-base coach Ben Willis signaled to Booker that he could slow down and start his home-run trot.
So Booker did.
Except the ball landed in play, just short of the fence. The center fielder gave chase. Booker hit top speed as he rounded first, headed for third and had the green light from St. V-M coach Anthony Boarman at third to go for an inside-the-park home run.
"I scored standing up," Booker said.
He weighs 225 pounds.
On June 12, Booker reports to Ohio State for summer school and summer workouts, and it’s then that his ability to hit and run will begin to be judged differently. Booker has always looked the part, and with 130 tackles and two defensive touchdowns last year for a team so stacked it had two other legitimate Mr. Football candidates, he played the part. Now that "it feels real, that it’s really right around the corner," he’s anxious to get to Columbus.
"I’m just excited to get there, to work, to get better," Booker said. "I know I have a long way to go. I’m excited about how far I can go. I don’t want to say I expect to be on the field right away or that I will be on the field right away because all I know is I’m going to work like crazy, make myself a part of the team and play my role while I keep getting better."
For now, though, he’s still going immediately to lift weights after every baseball practice and game. He had 3 RBI in that sectional win to help push St. V-M to a district semifinal Tuesday, where Booker will get another chance to stand in the box and stare down an opposing pitcher who, many more times than not, is not 6’4 and 225 pounds.
"Yeah, I’ve seen some big eyes," Booker joked. "I like it better when I see that from running backs, though. That’s right up close. There’s no hiding it.
"Not playing baseball the last two years, that’s one of my only regrets in high school. I love it. It’s something I always loved and just got away from and wish I hadn’t. Deciding to play was easy, actually. I can still lift, still do everything I’d normally be doing for football. I’m still ready to get to Ohio State."
Booker is hitting around .300 for the season and has five hits in his last seven at bats. He helped St. V-M to state football titles in both his junior and senior seasons and also played on a basketball team that went to the state tournament in both of those years.
"It’s been pretty incredible," Booker said. "I’m enjoying every minute and I’m also just really excited to get to Ohio State."