Friday night played out much like Devontae Booker’s football odyssey in general.
A lot of anxiety. Stops and starts. And then, pause, reflect and embrace all manner of patience.
Expecting a big call to punctuate what he expected to be the biggest day of his sporting life, Booker endured a four-hour-plus NFL draft marathon in limbo at Mark & Monica’s Family Pizza in Carmichael. The Utah Utes running back by way of Grant High School and American River College was a projected second- or third-round pick, but his phone did not ring. He did not field the call.
But he will. He most certainly expects that call to come Saturday as the draft concludes with Rounds 4 through 7.
But this time, Booker will wait it out at his parents’ home in Del Paso Heights, his roots, joking, “The call will probably wake me up, but I’ll be excited for it.”
And true to Booker’s good character, he felt worse for scores of family and friends that packed the pizzeria than he did for his own feelings of a festive flop. There were collective groans when names this crowd hoped would ring familiar turned out not so familiar. Booker likely slipped in the draft because of concerns over his left knee, which caused him to miss his final three games as a Utes senior. He had two surgeries to repair a meniscus but was otherwise deemed good to go by some 18 NFL scouts who watched him closely for a workout at Grant earlier this month.
“I’m so thankful all of these people were here for me, and they care,” Booker said, standing outside, under shelter as rain bounced off the asphalt. “I thought I’d get that call. It’ll happen. I’m not too discouraged. I’ve been through a lot worse.”
Worse in the form of a helpless, away-from-the-field feeling.
I’m so thankful all of these people were here for me, and they care. I thought I’d get that call. It’ll happen. I’m not too discouraged. I’ve been through a lot worse.
Devontae Booker, a former Grant High School and American River College running back
Following a prolific career at Grant, including helping power the Pacers to the region’s first CIF state football championship in 2008 and then rushing for 2,884 yards and 45 touchdowns as a senior in 2010, Booker thought he was headed to Washington State on scholarship. But his SAT scores were not high enough to qualify, so the offer was rescinded.
Then Booker zeroed in on Fresno State, but his qualifying test scores didn’t reach the NCAA clearinghouse in time. Booker was thrown for another loss when Fresno State looked elsewhere.
He landed at ARC, had two monstrous seasons, including 1,472 yards rushing as a sophomore, then landed at Utah.
There, Booker kept running, kept producing, and his NFL stock soared. He torched Washington State for 178 yards in his first start and finished his two-year career at Utah with 2,773 yards, displaying good vision, balance, power and burst.
Booker’s biggest gain was bypassing the draft allure a year ago to return to Utah for his senior season. He wanted another season of work but especially wanted to graduate with a degree in sociology.
“It was important for me to do that, to show that a kid from Del Paso Heights can chase his football dreams and still graduate,” Booker said.
Booker holds his football dreams dear; he has since his youth football days in Del Paso Heights, where kids grow up fantasizing about being Pacers and, perhaps, pros.
“He’s still the best running back in the draft, and I’ve thought that all along,” said Booker’s agent Jeremy Newberry, the former 49ers lineman. “He’s been overlooked his whole football life. He’ll continue to play with that chip on his shoulder, stay focused. It’s still a great opportunity, to get drafted, and this wasn’t what any of us expected tonight, but he’ll get picked, earn a job, become a starter, because that’s what Booker’s always done.”