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Thu., Aug. 6, 2009, 2:42 p.m.

No Shock that Booker fits in

John Booker of the Shock celebrates his touchdown in the second quarter. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
John Booker of the Shock celebrates his touchdown in the second quarter. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Just filed a feature article on Shock offensive lineman John Booker that will run in Friday's S-R. Read more about the San Jose State product who has helped Spokane's offense with his blocking and an occasional reception in an unedited article below.

(Please note that Booker is 22 years old. I've tried to fix that in the article below three times without success.)  

By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

John Booker was just 17 years old when he made his first start in a college football game. Now 23, he’s the youngest player on the Spokane Shock roster.

But it’s been an active 23 years.

Booker is a charismatic storyteller as he recounts his journey from angry youngster to easy-going arenafootball2 rookie. He’s all about family, teammates and learning from past mistakes – with a lot of entertainment mixed into each part of the equation.

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Booker grew up in Oakland. His parents divorced when he was 8. Booker and his two sisters moved in with his mom’s parents, who maintained strict household rules.

“My mom is my hero,” said Booker, who acknowledged he didn’t handle his parents’ split very well. “She was my den leader in Boy Scouts, my baseball coach. She went to every one of my games. This is the first year she’s missed games. She’s coming this weekend to watch.”

Booker blossomed into a promising lineman at Hayward High and verbally committed to Cal, but he didn’t fully commit to the classroom.

“I was a typical high school screw-up,” he said. “My senior year I played around and failed some classes.”

He ended up at San Jose State and was thrust into action early, even though original plans called for him to grayshirt. He earned his first start in a nationally televised game against Boise State.

Booker went on to start 36 games, including San Jose State’s landmark win in the 2006 New Mexico Bowl that ended the school’s 16-year bowl drought. Teammates voted Booker co-captain as a senior.

Booker spent some time with the San Francisco 49ers and he was making a mark until the team signed a veteran lineman. Then, Booker pulled his hamstring. The injury didn’t heal properly. It aggravated his sciatica and his back locked up.

He went from believing he had a strong chance of making the team to being released and receiving an injury settlement.

“I didn’t understand the business aspect of it,” he said, “but I learned a valuable lesson there.”

Booker hooked on with Spokane and he’s been a fixture at tight end. Offensive linemen often toil in anonymity until one mistake results in the quarterback getting knocked on his wallet. But in arena football, the spotlight occasionally shines on a lineman.

It’s called the tight end screen. The lineman who raises his hand as he approaches the line of scrimmage is a tight end and an eligible receiver under af2 rules. Booker has hauled in 10 passes and scored four times.

“Everybody loves it when a fat guy scores,” Shock coach Adam Shackleford said. “It makes people yell and scream and go crazy. John’s a good athlete and he still fits the mold of what the NFL is looking for. He’s a pretty athletic guard in the NFL.”

Booker made a nifty cutback to complete a 19-yard scoring play against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He admits he’s been hit or miss with his end-zone celebrations.

“I think I might have the best celebration of the year with the surf board,” he says, laughing. “That might be leading, with me being a big man doing a pretty complex dance. I also might have the worst one of the year. The rodeo attempt on the boards … it was a disaster, as my mom called it.”

Booker, center Kyle Young and guard Ryan Belcher form a solid line that has yielded just six sacks, tied with Bossier-Shreveport for lowest in the league. Quarterback Nick Davila leads af2 in pass efficiency and only three teams have scored more touchdowns, a reflection of the line’s performance.

“In past seasons we might have had trouble (blocking) certain teams and I would have to cut my route off faster than I normally would,” receiver Raul Vijil said. “Now I have all the time I need and I can get on the defender’s toes and be patient with my routes. It’s a good feeling. I know it’s a good feeling for Nick.”

The key up front is technique and teamwork.

“We’ve all just clicked together,” Booker said. “I met Belcher at a (San Jose) Sabercats workout and Kyle played in the same (WAC) conference as me so I knew of him.

“Actually when I first saw Kyle, I didn’t like him. He walked in with a wool hoodie on and UGG boots. I was like, ‘Look at this guy.’ I started hanging out with him and he’s a good guy. We all get along, we like to laugh and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re all good players, but we’re not cocky.”

Booker is in charge of pre-game music in the locker room because he has a comprehensive selection on his iPod. When youngsters from the YMCA showed up at a recent practice, Booker was one of the first players to greet them. “Hello kids,” he said loudly as he began shaking hands.

“I’ve always been taught to try to be optimistic about things,” he said. “I’ve always been lighthearted. I had some anger problems when my dad left, typical in that I was the only boy and was tight with him. From that, I’ve learned to become a relaxed person and it takes a lot to set me off.

“When I was a kid I had a lot of people look out for me so I try to look out for the kids. Gentle giant over here.”


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Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan joined The Spokesman-Review in 1990. Jim is currently a reporter for the Sports Desk and covers Gonzaga University basketball, Spokane Empire football, college volleyball and golf.

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