• December 27, 2014

ALLAN MANDELL: Booker cruises in first-ever start for UMHB

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Posted: Sunday, December 1, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 1:15 pm, Mon Dec 2, 2013.

BELTON — Trailing Rowan 6-0 with 5:21 left in the first quarter on Saturday at Crusader Stadium, UMHB right guard Kendrick Booker blasted defensive lineman Jake Hosko out of harm’s way, Crusader fullback Elijah Hudson ran through the hole for 26 yards — and two plays later UMHB had itself a 7-6 lead.

With UMHB ahead 21-6 and 5:59 left in the second quarter, facing second-and-2 at Rowan’s 36, Kendrick Booker made another bone-smashing block — creating another wide hole — and Hudson raced forward for 19 yards.

Two plays after that 19-yard gain, on first-and-goal at the Rowan 7, Kendrick Booker punished another Rowan defensive lineman, UMHB running back Michael Carpenter followed Booker into the end zone — and the lead was 28-6.

UMHB had possession on Rowan’s 49-yard line with 36 seconds left in the half. Kendrick Booker knocked Rowan linebacker Darryl Pratt out of the way, and Crusader quarterback Zach Anderson took advantage of Booker’s block and dashed 42 yards to the 7. Two plays later, UMHB scored, and the halftime lead was 35-7.

Notice a pattern here?

Booker, a 6-foot sophomore, had himself a heck of a playoff game, certainly doing his part in UMHB’s second-round 59-8 pasting of Rowan.

What’s rather remarkable is that Saturday was Booker’s first-ever career start. Yes, in a postseason contest which would decide whether or not UMHB advanced into the elite eight of the national championship party, Crusader 15-year offensive line

coach Joe George was willing to roll the dice. He gambled on Booker delivering.

And that bet paid off.

“Kendrick had been playing second-team tackle for us,” said George. “He was real excited about the opportunity to start today for us at guard. And he came through. He really played very well for us. I watched him. He got the opportunity to start and he certainly took advantage of that opportunity. He played very well and I’m sure he’ll have a good grade after we see the film.”

On Wednesday, George pulled all the offensive linemen together for a brief announcement: Booker would start at guard against Rowan.

“When Coach told us, he said it very calmly and I didn’t get nervous because I know the system,” said Booker. “I just wanted to fill my role.”

“We didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, because we knew the rest of the linemen respect Kendrick Booker,” said George.

In the UMHB game-day program, Booker is listed as weighing 300 pounds.

“Well,” says Booker, “that’s what I weighed when I first got here. Now, I’m about 260.”

On Thursday, Booker enjoyed his Thanksgiving feast.

“But after I finished eating, all I could do was think about this game,” he said. “I got mentally focused. Friday was a relaxed day for me. This morning, before the game, I was still pretty calm. I looked over my playbook and had a little breakfast — I wanted to keep it a light meal.”

How light?

“Eggs, potatoes, pancakes and bacon.”

Hmm … that’s all? You must have been starving by the time you got to the stadium … Oh, well.

“During warm-ups today,” said Booker, “all I kept thinking was, ‘I have to do my part.’ But I did feel very confident and that confidence came from knowing that I’d be playing next to my boys. It’s an honor playing on this line with (Sterling) Cantue and Montana (Duncan), and even the second team — because that’s who I’ve usually been playing with.”

The first team O-line on Saturday had itself a spectacular game. Guards Josh Holt and Booker, center Cantue and tackles Duncan and Jose Ostos yielded zero sacks and helped pave the way for 337 rushing yards. The Cru gained 525 total yards.

“I was very pleased with the effort of all our offensive linemen today,” said George. “Having 525 yards is a great total.”

“We all feel it’s an honor to play for Coach George,” said Booker. “He’s such a great offensive line coach. He knows exactly what he’s doing.”

Recalling Booker’s arrival on campus two years back, George said, “He came in here weighing 300 pounds but he couldn’t move well at that weight. But he changed his body so he could be a good offensive lineman. Now, he can run really fast. He’s listed at 300 pounds, but I’m not sure he’s even 260. He may be 250 or 255.

“He’s not close to 300 pounds. He’s not that big.”

But on Saturday, Kendrick Booker proved his heart is big.

Very big.

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