Dante Booker (Akron, Ohio/St. Vincent-St. Mary) knew he had an incredible sophomore season. His 157 tackles, 14 sacks, three fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles were indicative of that.
But the ESPN Watch List linebacker wanted more heading into his junior season. He wanted that elusive state championship that had evaded the Fighting Irish since 1988.
“Your junior season is very important to see what kind of team you’ve got and what you’ve got,” Booker said back in August. “I’m never satisfied. I just have to go out there every day and get better. I’m going to try to be a leader for the team.”
That leader guided St. Vincent-St. Mary to a 42-21 Ohio Division III state championship win Saturday over Bellevue. It came with a steady dose of running backs Parris Campbell Jr. and Newman Williams and a whole lot of Booker.
“I’m excited we got to continue [the postseason],” Booker said after the victory. “We have a great defense. We have a great team. We went against three offensive players of the year in three weeks, but we didn’t look at that much. We came here and stopped them.”
Actually Booker stopped them.
A team with a quarterback that had more than 2,000 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns met Booker time and again. Almost every time, Booker won.
The junior led the way with a game-high nine tackles -- one for loss -- and was the cog on a defense that allowed only 63 rushing yards.
“Dante’s only a junior,” St. Vincent-St. Mary coach Dan Boarman said. “They’ve all been playing aggressive like Dante did today.
“Bellevue was a different kind of offense, with a different kind of back. We had to be a little more patient. We finally wore them down at the end. I look for great things from him next year.”
What Booker has already done for the Irish was pretty special. Playing hurt, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior had 81 tackles, six sacks, nine tackles for loss, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery this year. He has offers from most of the Big Ten -- including Ohio State -- and interest from others.
“I came to St. Vincent-St. Mary because this is what you want to do,” Booker said. “This is what you want to accomplish. “We always seemed to come up short. To do it this year, it was exciting. You continue to work. It was exciting to go out there and play with these guys and exciting to win this game.”