Dante Booker ran out of the Ohio State tunnel for the first time last season as a starter. It was the 2016 opener against Bowling Green. After being an understudy to Joshua Perry for two years, it was finally time for Booker to show what he could do.
He saw about nine plays of action before spraining ligaments in his knee, ending his season before he ever even saw the second quarter.
“It was definitely frustrating,” Booker said of last season. “You earn a starting spot, all the work you put in, but injuries happen. It’s a sacrifice you’ve got to make when you’re playing football.”
Having gotten just a small taste of being a starter, Booker is now obviously driven to take a much larger bite when Ohio State takes the field again later this month at Indiana.
“I feel like it’s another chance at it, another swing at it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. I feel like I’m more passionate because I’ve not got as many swings left as I had before. After last year, missing that year, I feel like it kind of created a greater fire in me that I’ve always had, but I feel like it’s burning bright now.”
Booker was healthy enough at the end of the season to play, but there was no need to burn a redshirt. The Buckeyes were fine, as Jerome Baker took over for Booker very effectively. Now, Booker is at Baker’s old Sam linebacker spot, and for linebackers coach Billy Davis, he couldn’t be happier.
“Oh, it’s exciting,” Davis said. “It’s exciting to watch Dante run around out there. He’s 235 pounds. He’s fast, he’s explosive. We’ve got him in what we feel is a good spot. So we’re excited. He’s had a good camp so far. We’ve got a lot left. If he keeps coming, hopefully we’ll be as pleased at the end of the season as we are right now.”
And if he continues to excel in camp, what can people expect to see from Dante Booker this season?
“Well, he’s a big explosive athlete,” Davis explained. “He’s out in space, so if you want to go ahead and put a receiver on him, he can run good enough to cover. And if you want to try to block him with a receiver, it’s a long day for the perimeter run because Dante is such a big guy. So when you have that combination of size and speed like he has, we can take advantage of it.”
Booker is now in his second camp as a starter, but even though he feels like a vet, he still believes he has something to prove. He has looked good in practice, but the only true measure comes on Saturdays.
As he says, “All that matters is being in that stadium.”
So going through camp as a starter isn’t anything new for Booker. He’s done it before. Spring camps too. The difference with this camp, however, is that he knows how quickly everything can be taken away.
“He has a drive,” Davis said. “He knows — if anybody knows how quickly it can be taken away through circumstances out of your control, it’s Dante. So every day he comes to work. He doesn’t complain, he just works because he knows. He knows he got all of the way to this point last year and it was taken away.”
For some, that kind of loss can drive a person mad. For others, it simply drives them.
When asked if last season has provided Booker with an extra drive, Davis gave a very interesting answer.
“With Dante, I don’t think there’s any such word as ‘extra,'” he said. “He is so driven. He wants it so bad. As long as I’ve known him, he’s that driven. I don’t think there’s any ‘extra’. He is full throttle and wants it as bad as anyone I’ve been around.”