There’s no baby about him, not with the sturdy frame and emerging beard.
But the new nickname fits.
Devontae Booker’s punishing running style and elusiveness have his Utah Utes teammates comparing him to the Seattle Seahawks’ bruising running back, thus the moniker: “Baby Marshawn Lynch.”
One thing those runners share is a fondness for a beast-mode mentality. Booker, a former Grant High School and American River College star, is pushing for the starting job at the Pacific-12 Conference school in Salt Lake City, competing like a man making up for lost time.
Booker’s most effective means of reaching the end zone has generally been straight ahead, but his circuitous path to Division I football required a re-commitment in the classroom and patience.
Poor grades kept Booker from fulfilling his verbal commitment to Washington State out of Grant. His game film popped as he rushed for 1,850 yards and 36 touchdowns for Grant’s state title team in 2008 as a junior, and he went for 2,884 and 45 in 2009. Best known as “Book,” he produced two all-state seasons for ARC, galloping for 1,472 yards in 2012 and returning two kickoffs for 90-plus yards for scores.
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound Booker, who was academically ineligible last fall at Utah, says he’s on track to graduate. He’s a 22-year-old junior, sage in experience and humility.
“I’m ready to go,” Booker said. “I’m excited. It’s time. I run hard. I have speed. I can be a home run threat.”
Booker’s position coach, Dennis Erickson, recognizes a good back when he sees one. His head-coaching stops included stints at Miami, Oregon State and Arizona State, and with the 49ers.
Said Erickson to Utah media: “He does everything really well. He’s the most physical runner we have. He’s a good pass protector, and he has a lot of speed.”
Erickson mentions Utah backs of yesteryear as a motivator and gauge, be it Jamal Anderson or Mike Anderson, each of whom logged productive NFL careers.
“Utah has had great backs in the past,” Erickson said. “Book has the ability to play with all of them.”
‘A’ for Armstead
Arik Armstead (Pleasant Grove) is poised for a breakout season with Oregon. The 6-8 junior defensive lineman, is healthy again after battling through wrist and arm injuries last season. He also has embraced a leadership role. Armstead, agile for his size, was on the Ducks’ basketball team last season but gave up that sport to focus on his health and football. The basketball program has inquired about a return. He declined.
Noel McKee, a coach and administrator at Rio Linda High from the 1960s to the ’90s, died after a long bout with cancer. As principal, McKee hired Mike Morris in 1992 to head the Knights’ football program. After a winless first season, Morris turned Rio Linda into a regional power. Now the Knights’ athletic director, Morris recalled emotional meetings with McKee over pizza and stories of his military experiences in Korea. Then the friends would laugh about McKee’s desire to paint and golf.
“He was a man’s man,” Morris said. “Most of all, I will miss seeing him on our sideline.”
Around the area
• Elk Grove High first baseman Dylan Carlson verbally committed to Cal State Fullerton. Carlson, a junior, is the son of Herd coach Jeff Carlson. When Carlson homered at Grant as a freshman, his mother, Caryn, joked: “That’s my son there! The Dylan who struck out looking earlier? That’s coach Carlson’s son.”
• Eddie Plantaric (Del Campo) plays all over the place during Stanford practices. The fifth-year senior arrived on the Farm as a defensive end and played there as a sophomore. He then switched to tight end last fall and is now getting looks at fullback.
• Brendan Lane, a former Bee Basketball Player of the Year from Rocklin, signed with the Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins in Nagoya, Japan. The 6-9 forward played at UCLA and Pepperdine and was on the Kings’ summer league roster.
• UCLA coach Jim Mora on 6-3, 245-pound Nate Iese (Sheldon), who has played fullback, tight end, linebacker and defensive end: “He creates mismatches because he’s so big and physical, yet he’s athletic, and he can run.”
• Offensive lineman Austin Wentworth (Whitney) has impressed at the Minnesota Vikings’ camp. He went undrafted out of Fresno State.
• Kenny Wiggins (Elk Grove) is in the San Diego Chargers’ camp. The offensive lineman out of Fresno State was signed to the team’s practice squad last year.
Seyi Ajirotutu (Oak Ridge) is trying to make the Chargers’ roster as a wide receiver. The Fresno State product had one touchdown with San Diego last season.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.