Devontae Booker’s breakout 2014 season provided momentum the Sacramento-area native could have ridden into last spring’s NFL draft. Instead, Booker’s back in a Utah uniform for a 2015 season in which he’s a Heisman Trophy candidate.
But Booker said Friday at Pac-12 media days his primary motivation for coming back to Utah wasn’t chasing the stiff-arm trophy, nor was it helping the Utes to a Pac-12 championship. His fuel wasn’t even improving upon his draft stock, though the 2015 season shouldn’t hurt him there.
“Do I want to be a thousandaire when I come out, or do I want to be a millionaire in a year?” Booker says he asked himself.
But ultimately, no, it wasn’t football that prompted Devontae Booker’s decision. Booker was spurred on by the pursuit of his sociology degree.
“After football, I want to council kids in the neighborhood in my hometown,” Booker said.
Devontae Booker’s neighborhood is Del Paso Heights, a rough part of Sacramento. City council statistics report Del Paso Heights has one of the highest rates of gunfire of any neighborhood in the area.
“I seen a lot of stuff, from friends getting a killed at a party I was at,” Booker said of growing up in Del Paso Heights. “Seeing guys getting shot, or running home from a party because people are shooting.
“My parents told me, ‘your friends are always going to be here. You’ve got something to go for,'” he added.
That something was football, and the shot at college football provided him. Booker persevered through the challenges of growing up there, earning a scholarship offer from Washington State after a monster senior season at Grant Union High School. Booker rushed for nearly 2,900 yards and scored 45 — yes, 45 — touchdowns for the 12-1 Pacers.
But failing to reach a minimum SAT score sent Booker to American River College, where he got focused on academics and found a new opportunity with Utah — one on which he’s made good.
Devontae Booker enters 2015 a Heisman candidate, something that he said he takes pride in. Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has actively trumpeted Booker’s credentials for the award, too.
The accolades motivate Booker, rather than fueling his ego, however.
“There are some guys you can talk about being a Heisman candidate and this and that and it would go to their head and mess them up,” Whittingham said. “Devontae’s not one of those guys.”
Whittingham touted Booker’s “big heart,” adding the running back “cares about people.” That shows in his ambition beyond the playing field, where his success is means to bigger ends. His Heisman candidacy is part of that.
“Everybody looks at me different now. I kind of see that,” he said. “‘Oh, that’s Devontae Booker, he’s a Heisman candidate.’ They’ll want to come up to me, say hi, shake my hand, acknowledge that I’m up for that award…It’s cool. I guess you can say I can be a role model for their kids.”
Football gives Devontae Booker a platform to make a positive impact, and he recognizes that.
“I’ll get the money I want to get [from playing in the NFL] and build a Boys and Girls Club in Del Paso Heights,” he said. “Us as kids, we didn’t really have anywhere to go to play ball or get homework done. It was everybody out in the streets, pretty much. If we had a Boys and Girls Club, the kids wouldn’t get in trouble or do bad things.”
Through Devontae Booker’s success, a generation from now, the next great college running back from Del Paso Heights just might be a new role model for kids.