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Buckeyes Looking Forward to Having Dante Booker Back on the Field in 2017
By Tony Gerdeman

Dante Booker has paid his dues and those around him every day can't wait to see what he is going to do with his opportunities.

Booker missed last season when he sprained his MCL in the season opener. After sitting behind Joshua Perry for two years, 2016 was going to be his season, but it ended just as quickly as it began.

By the second half of last season, he was healthy enough to play, but at that point Jerome Baker had established himself at Booker's Will linebacker position. He prepared every week to play, but in the end it was decided that redshirting would be the best decision for Booker and the team.

This spring, Booker has moved to the walk-out linebacker position, which was manned by Chris Worley last year and Darron Lee for the two years before that. At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, that should give you a pretty good idea of the kind of athlete Booker is.

"I’m excited about Dante," new linebackers coach Billy Davis said. "Dante is a special athlete and we’ve got him out in space. He’s got a lot of speed and quickness and ability to change direction, so we’ve got him out where Chris was, where that’s really a space player for us, so we’re excited to see how Book grows out there. I know he has a strong hunger, a great hunger. They all do. This is a hungry group of guys that want to go prove themselves and I’m excited about seeing Book getting his opportunity."

With Worley now in the middle, many thought Baker would move to the walk-out position because of his athleticism. On Tuesday, Baker -- who was the backup walk-out linebacker until Booker went down -- was asked why he wasn't the walk-out linebacker now, since that usually goes to the most athletic of the three starting linebackers.

"I’m sure if Book was to hear that, I’m sure he’d lose his smile," Baker said laughing. "The Will and the Sam you can change them in and out. They’re pretty much for the most part the same position. So as far as saying the more athletic guy is out there, that’s not really saying anything. You could put me or Book out there. I’m pretty sure if Book was to hear this he would go a little crazy."

Booker hasn't yet spoken with the media this spring, so his reaction will have to wait. Or maybe he'll simply let the proof show on the field.

Despite missing 95% of the 2016 season, Booker was still engaged in the defense. He helped Baker with his responsibilities every week, and it was that dedication to the cause that has Baker excited to see Booker finally get to do what everyone knows he is capable of doing.

"Even when Book was off, he still helped me out and he still helped the guys out," he said. "Nothing really changed as far as his mind. That’s Book. He gives you energy, he gives you so much passion that this year you just want to see him succeed because he did get hurt last year, but this year he’s back. I’m definitely excited to see what he can do. He’s very good. Like you were saying, he’s ‘not as explosive’, I don’t know where you got that from. He’s very, very explosive. Very explosive."

Every linebacker needs to know the ins and outs of every spot in their room, and Booker has learned a lot as he heads into his fourth season at Ohio State. Yes, he is an explosive athlete, but with just one career start to his credit, he also has something else that is driving him.

"I see a guy that has a burning desire to be great," Worley said. "A lot of times you see guys get hurt and they walk around with their head down and they feel like ‘Maybe next year.’ I saw last year a guy that wouldn’t take no for an answer. It just so happened to be that his body wasn’t ready for it. He wanted to go that next week. Just being smart it wasn’t a good deal, but that’s why every week you saw ‘He’s ready, he’s going to be ready this week,’ but he wasn’t really ready. Then it got to a point in time that his body was ready and it was kind of not smart to play him with Jerome playing like he was playing."

There is nothing holding Booker back now, however, which is good news for the Buckeyes and bad news for everyone else.

"He fought every day to get back, and now that he’s back the offense is going to feel it," Worley said. "That’s just how it’s going to be."

Player profiles relevant to story:
17 - Baker, Jerome | 33 - Booker, Dante | 35 - Worley, Chris | Coach - Davis, Billy
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