One question caused Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Dante Booker to pause Thursday during a post-practice interview at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“If you had stayed healthy last year, what would you have done?” a reporter asked.
“I really don’t know how to answer that,” said Booker, a redshirt junior from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. “I feel like I could have contributed the best I could.”
Booker will never know what would have happened in 2016 if he hadn’t sprained his knee in the season opener against Bowling Green. He was healthy by the end of the season but didn’t play again and earned a medical redshirt. He said it was an easy call not to play.
“I was probably full speed,” Booker said, “but I really didn’t have my confidence.”
Jerome Baker, then a sophomore, took Booker’s starting job last fall. Now the two will start together alongside senior Chris Worley.
PRACTICE UPDATE: Urban Meyer press conference highlights
The Buckeyes held their 12th of 28 preseason practices Thursday, three weeks before the season opener Aug. 31 at Indiana. Booker will enter that game with a sense of deja vu. He feels like a new starter even though he began last season as a new starter.
“It’s going to be like it was last year,” Booker said. “It’s going to be exciting. I’m going to be probably a little more juiced up having missed a year.”
Booker spent a lot of time with another injured player, defensive lineman Tracy Sprinkle, with the trainers last season. They bonded over their shared feeling of being robbed of playing time by bad luck. Sprinkle also suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener.
“We’re hungry to get out there and show people what we can do and contribute to this tradition,” Sprinkle said. “We feel we haven’t done much yet. It’s time to contribute.”
OFFENSIVE LINE: Unit should have more depth
The starting linebacker the Buckeyes lost to the NFL, Raekwon McMillan, has already earned a starting job with the Miami Dolphins. Two 2015 starters, Joshua Perry and Darron Lee, are also in the NFL.
Booker has that potential. He’s 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, which makes him the biggest linebacker on the roster. Baker is 6-1 and 225 pounds. The 6-2 Worley weighs 230. None of the backups weigh more than 234.
“It’s exciting to watch Dante run around out there,” linebackers coach Bill Davis said. “He’s fast. He’s explosive. We’ve got him in a good spot. He’s having a good camp so far. He is so driven. He is full throttle and wants it as bad as anyone I’ve been around.”