No lack of confidence, talent for running back

Sophomore running back Devonte Booker holds up two championship rings. The top is from the 2011 undefeated season for ARC, the bottom form the 2008 state title at Grant. (Photo by Bryce Fraser)

Devonte Booker has some seriously lofty goals, and so does American River College head football coach Jerry Halfich about his star running back.
“A player like Devonte is going to change the perception of American River College football,” Halfich said.

The Beavers are in the midst of spring drills preparing for a daunting task of moving up to the top tier of California community college football.
Haflich expects Booker, who recently received a scholarship offer from the University of Hawaii that would start for the 2013 season, to become a major focal point for the offense, saying he would like the sophomore to become “the first 1,500 yard rusher in school history.”
Booker has confidence in his abilities.

He talks of 2,000 yards rushing in 2012 for ARC. He wants to win the Heisman his junior year at a Pacific-12 Conference program in 2013. And there is his five-year plan of being a player in the NFL.

“There is no question in anyone’s mind that Devonte Booker will be a Division I running back,” Haflich said. “Athletically, he is so capable.”
This all for a guy, just two years ago, who was uncertain of his future in football because of multiple academic setbacks.

“At one point in time I thought about quitting,” Booker said. “I thought to myself that if this is what I have to do in order to play, it shouldn’t seem that hard. But after a while, I just said forget it.”

After two missed opportunities at D-I programs, Booker is now in line to shine for the Beavers in 2012.

“With (Booker), the possibilities are endless,” Haflich said. “(We want to) use him as many different ways as we can.”

During his prep years at Grant Union High School in Del Paso Heights, Booker was all-everything for the Pacers. As a junior in 2008, he led the team in rushing yards and touchdowns en route to a state title for the Pacers. As a senior, Booker racked up numerous player of the year accolades after piling up 2884 rushing yards and scoring a mind-boggling 45 rushing touchdowns as a senior.

“He is physically gifted beyond belief,” Haflich said.

Booker signed with Washington State University in February of 2009 during his senior year at Grant, but was late to take his entrance exams and his scholarship was pulled.

So he stayed home, but didn’t let it get him down.

“I was still going up to Grant and working out with the team,” Booker said. “Just staying in shape.”

Then his phone rang again after, according to Booker, he got his ACT and SAT scores up (a composite 28 on the ACT). California State University of Fresno offered Booker a scholarship.

His plans hit a roadblock again. According to Booker, a day before he was set to move to Fresno, the school called him and said that the final math class he took in high school did not meet the requirements for entrance.

Another scholarship gone.

“I was hurt by that because I had all my stuff together,” Booker said. “I thought I was going to finally be leaving, but then that thing popped up. So I was really mad about it.”

That’s when Haflich and his staff got a hold of Booker.

Just a week before the 2011 fall semester started, Booker enrolled in classes and became a Beaver.

The late arrival excited the coaching staff—but not without some reservations.

Instead of continuing to be the feature running back, he became part of a three player rotation at running back.

At first, Booker said it was difficult to not be “the guy”, so he did what he had to do to get on the field.

“I didn’t want to be (a) bench player and sit and watch other guys do work out there when I wanted to do the same,” Booker said.

So he became Haflich’s shadow on Saturdays. When he wasn’t on the field, Halfich said Booker would jump at any chance just to play.

“He is running down on kick coverage teams just making tackle after tackle. He is on the punt team and he is just blocking and running down and making tackles,” Haflich said. “That was his, kind of penance, if it were, for walking in late. You have to earn that way in.”

And that Booker did.

Starting with a road game on Oct. 15 against College of the Siskiyous, Booker went on a four game free-for-all. He averaged 125 rushing yards per game and scored a total of six touchdowns during that stretch.

Then his bad luck showed up again.

Before the season finale against Sacramento City College, Booker’s right elbow inflamed to the size of a ballon after being bitten by a spider.

The injury forced him to take a back seat on offense, but he still found a way on the field for the final two games of the season, running back a kickoff for a touchdown in each game.

Booker said he was frustrated by the injury during the season finale—but he felt he could still play on offense.

“I was just mad because I wasn’t getting in and helping the team win,” Booker said. “I wanted to earn the (bowl game victory) ring. So when they kicked the ball off, I just found an opening and ran it back.”

Booker now has his sights set highly for the upcoming season.

“Win the state (championship) and get more than 2,000 yards rushing,” Booker said.

Haflich hopes that the new role will suit his soft-spoken running back.

“It is going to have to be a very conscious, daily choice on his part to lead outside of just himself,” Haflich said. “He has been responsible for just himself and doing a great job of that because he is just such a phenomenal talent. But I think if that young man can transition into a leadership role for us, it is going make him more valuable and make him a better man.”

With a little bit of good luck this coming season, Booker might be able to continue on with his lofty goal.

“I am going to do whatever it takes to get me to that next level where I want to be,” Booker said. “Playing in the NFL.”

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