The toddler wanted a piece of the action.
Deashon, 2 years old with curly blond hair and a broad grin, engaged in a tug of war of sorts with his father, Devontae Booker. The battle ensued Tuesday morning in an end zone at the Grant High School football stadium, which was bristling with anticipation.
The little lad wanted to wear his dad’s slick playing gloves, tugging at the glossy-red hand gear, refusing to take no for an answer. The elder Booker finally relented, settling for another pair in a nearby bag. He slipped them on, then engaged in the real action.
Booker’s audience on the Del Paso Heights campus was immense. The shifty and strong running back from Utah by way of Grant and American River College worked out in front of more than 25 NFL scouts, coaches and personnel executives. Each had his NFL team logo on his shirt or windbreaker with notepads to chart every drill and run and jot down notes after speaking with Booker.
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NFL scouts and coaches are accustomed to a college facility for a draft prospect’s “pro day” workout, but they flocked to Grant,, where Booker became a football star. The NFL representatives wanted to update their data on a player expected to go in the top three rounds of the NFL draft, which starts April 28.
Booker held his pro day while recovering from a left knee meniscus tear suffered in November. The injury sidelined him for his final three college games and ended his run for the Heisman Trophy. He had a follow-up procedure in February.
Booker looked sharp in his workout. He seemingly broke more of a sweat wrestling with his son than in his otherwise simple session. He ran pass routes – short and long – to showcase his footwork and ability to cut and stop and start. The knee appears quite sound.
Booker intrigues NFL teams because of his 5-foot-11, 220-pound frame, football IQ and versatility, balance and explosive running style. For months, NFL teams have examined game film from Utah, where Booker rushed for 1,512 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior and 1,261 yards and 11 scores last fall.
“This is all 11th-hour stuff, to see how he moves, to check up on the guy after the knee,” said Dave Razzano, a senior scout for the Indianapolis Colts based in Roseville. “That’s why so many people are here. Sometimes it seems like overkill, all of this. But he’s the last big guy to check before the draft.”
Booker chose Grant for his workout because of what the school and the region mean to him. Several hundred people attended the workout, and it was a reflection of the Grant community: students, adults of all ages, races and backgrounds. They cheered Booker’s every move.
“This is home,” Booker said. “My parents live a block from here. My message to the kids watching is that you can do better in this community than violence. You can do better than drugs. Hopefully, I give them hope and I put a smile on their faces.”
“This is his comfort zone, so why not work out here?” said Booker’s agent, Jeremy Newberry, a former Cal, 49ers and Raiders lineman who now works for the sports and entertainment management company Octagon. “I think it’s great.”
Booker brought smiles to the NFL representatives in attendance, including Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who had Booker run specific routes. And Booker continues to please those who helped shaped his career.
“It hasn’t been an easy path for Booker to get here with some (academic roadblocks early), but here he is,” Grant football coach Mike Alberghini said. “Devontae stayed his senior season at Utah to graduate, so that’s a testament to who he is. He’s such a great person, a really good human being. This is his neighborhood, his school, what he’s all about.”
Booker made sure to embrace one woman in particular before his workout: Kim Davie, a Grant vice principal who remains a mother figure to him.
“All of these kids at Grant are our kids, but some are so special, they become your baby, and Devontae is my baby,” Davie said. “He’s hung in there. He persevered through those academic test scores when we’ve seen too many kids give up and quit. If I could bottle up his pride, I’d be rich. He has that special something in him.”
Booker said he has plenty of motivation. He has his son and his longtime girlfriend, Destiny Matthews, for starters. He vows to give back to Grant. He will relocate for NFL employment, but Booker said nobody can remove Del Paso Heights from him. He shares the sentiment of other Grant alums who have reached the NFL, including Shaq Thompson a first-round draft pick by the Carolina Panthers last year and a starting linebacker in Super Bowl 50.
“Pride. It’s how I’ve been my whole life,” Booker said. “I’ve seen bad stuff happen in this neighborhood. It made me gravitate and go a different way, and that’s what I’ve always done. There’s a lot of good here, too.”
at a glance
- Position: Running back
- Height/weight: 5-foot-11, 220 pounds
- High school: Grant, class of 2010
- Colleges: American River (two seasons, 2,265 yards, 36 TDs), Utah (two seasons, 2,773 yards, 21 TDs)
- Projected draft pick: Second or third round
- When: April 28, 5 p.m. (first round), April 29, 4 p.m. (rounds 2-3) and April 30, noon (rounds 4-7)
- Where: Chicago
- No. 1 pick: Tennessee
- 49ers’ first pick: No. 7
- Raiders’ first pick: No. 14
- TV: ESPN, NFL Network