When Dante Booker was announced as Ohio State’s defensive player of the game against Rutgers, the meeting room erupted.
“There was a big cheer for him — just the way you want it,” coach Urban Meyer said.
Booker, a senior linebacker from Akron, had four tackles, including two for a loss. His biggest play, however, was a first-quarter interception off a ball tipped by defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle that went off the hands of a Rutgers receiver deep in Ohio State territory. If any play in a 56-0 victory can be deemed the turning point, that one qualifies.
“I can’t describe it, but it felt amazing, like a long time coming,” Booker said of both the interception and player-of-the-game honors. “But I feel I have to keep going, and we have to keep going as a defense, too.”
Booker was expected to emerge as a star last season. But he suffered a torn MCL in a knee in the opening game and missed the rest of the season.
Booker hoped to make up for lost time this season, and well, that may have been part of the problem.
“I do believe he struggled a little bit,” Meyer said. “It wasn’t so much from the injury. It was just getting back into the flow of things. The injury was fine, it’s just that when you miss that much time …
“‘Book’ is one of those guys we never had to worry about going hard. He’s a pleaser. He wants to do everything right. Sometimes you paralyze yourself because you overanalyze everything instead of just playing 4-to-6 (seconds).”
Booker said that’s a fair criticism. He had quiet games to start the season and wasn’t part of Ohio State’s two-linebacker scheme when the Buckeyes played against Army and its triple-option offense. He didn’t have a tackle against UNLV.
Booker said he tried to avoid becoming frustrated because he knows that can be counterproductive. But missing almost all of last season also stoked his determination to make his final season a memorable one.
“I feel I’m more intense (and have) more passion,” Booker said. “I have (fewer) opportunities left. Not being part of the season last year, it’s hard. That kind of builds a fire, a passion, in you. You want to get every opportunity you can and do it to the best of your ability.”
Booker wasn’t the only linebacker to struggle at the beginning of the season. The Oklahoma loss was the obvious low point. But he believes the unit and the entire defense is finding its groove.
“We’re not there yet, but I feel like we’re really close,” Booker said.
He said he wants the defense to be suffocating.
“That’s total domination, total frustration for offenses,” Booker said. “We can definitely get there. We have the players for that.”
If it happens, Booker should be a major factor.
“Everybody loves him, including myself,” Meyer said. “The players respect him because of how much he works and how much Ohio State means to him.”