Dante Booker is only halfway through high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary and already he is on the radar of several Division I college football coaches.
A scholarship to a school of his choice seems like a certainty, especially after a national recruiting website, Rivals.com, ranked Booker as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2014 in Ohio.
His play as a sophomore was impressive after logging time on the Fighting Irish varsity team as a freshman.
Expectations for his junior year are high.
Booker, 16, knows that and said he is ready to roll as an outside linebacker and tight end.
“I don’t think it adds any pressure to me,” Booker said of the No. 1 distinction in Ohio’s junior class. “I want to just go out there and prove that label of being No. 1 is accurate with my playing style.
“I am OK with it. It is not really nerve-wracking. I can deal with it.”
St. V-M coach Dan Boarman said Booker’s biggest impact is on defense, where he emerged last season as a reliable player alongside older players.
“Dante is an interesting animal because he is still a puppy,” Boarman said. “He is still a young kid with so much room to grow. He is pretty good right now, and I think that he can be exceptional. He can be one of the better football players to ever walk out of here.
“He is 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, and he runs like a deer. Every day he is getting the game more and more. You can see that out on the field and he is just a junior. That is the beauty of it. I have him for two more years.”
Colleges will have to wait as Booker continues to don the green and gold of the Irish.
Booker said he holds scholarship offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State, Illinois and Indiana. Other schools are expressing interest.
“I bring athleticism and speed to the football field,” Booker said. “I get to the ball very quickly. I am trying to be a leader this year, too.”
Booker takes the attention in stride and maintains his focus on the team, which he has helped reach the Division III state playoffs in each of his years in high school.
“I wasn’t expecting to play varsity [as a freshman],” Booker said. “I came in maybe expecting to play a little JV, but I just came in working hard and just listened to [then seniors and current college players] Doran Grant and Mark Murphy and all those guys. They helped me adjust to high school a lot. It was a pretty good experience.”
Booker, an Akron resident, said he expects to decide on a college when he is a high school senior.
Boarman and his staff are excited to see Booker continue to progress and grow.
“I think that [No. 1 ranking] means less to him than it does to me,” Boarman said. “He knows he still has to perform. He has to produce. He understands the game and what it is all about. It is not about what is written in the paper or on some Internet site. It is about what happens on Friday night on the field.”
Booker can trace a lot of his athletic ability to his parents who were both athletes. His father, Dante, played football at Ellet and Auburn, and played professionally in the CFL and AFL. His mother, Nicole Hartman, played basketball at Ellet.
Boarman said Booker is a pleasure to coach on a daily basis.
“It is hard getting a whole lot out of him because he is quiet,” Boarman said. “He is not a kid that is obnoxious. He is not one of those kids that will come up and say, ‘Make sure my picture is in the paper.’ He is just a humble and nice gentleman.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.