It was one of the most talked about recruiting battles in recent years as Hershel Dennis and Lorenzo Booker vied for the title of the top RB in Southern California and the best part was that both players lived up to the billing with fantastic performances on the field.
Both had terrific careers filled with CIF championships, huge rushing numbers and multiple trips to the end zone. Both are known for having great feet although for entirely different reasons. Booker can stutter step and flash with the best of them and it is amazing sometimes to see what he can do to a hapless defender while Hershel uses more of a gliding style with incredible quick steps as he is making his cuts. Neither player is physically what you would call a "big" back although Hershel is noticeably thicker than Lorenzo at this point. There were many times throughout the recruiting season when we were asked which player we liked better and the answer, while never meaning to slight Booker, was always Hershel Dennis and here are the reasons why:
Hershel got it done week in and week out against CIF SS Div. 1 competition, the highest level of high school football in the country. He was the first back in storied Long Beach Poly history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season when he did it as a junior. He scored the game winning touchdown in OT to beat Matt Ware and Loyola in the CIF title game last year and this season he put on a show in the 4th quarter of the title game against Edison with an electrifying run past Marcus McCutcheon and A.J. Martinez. In the only match up in high school football history this year when Poly took on DeLaSalle Dennis got over 160 yards while running a lot inside against Derek Landri. It isn't necessarily Lorenzo's fault that he never got to line up against Loyola or Mater Dei but he was getting his yardage running past defenders from tiny private schools while Hershel was taking on the best and producing on a consistent basis. The September 11th tragedy forced the cancellation of the St. Bonaventure game against Hart, a highly anticipated contest that would have been shown on Fox Sports Net 2 and given fans an opportunity to finally see what Booker could do against a top team. Unfortunately we never got to see that game while Hershel has stepped up time and again in big games in front of big crowds and television lights with proven results.
Hershel runs well between the tackles and is one of the best backs in years in terms of vision with that inate running back sense which allows him to avoid taking the direct hit. Booker has the shifty moves and burst of speed to get outside which he did often in his career with great success but to be a complete back at some point you need to prove that you can gain yardage up the middle. Dennis has proven that he can and this is especially important when considering the future makeup of our offensive line. With the current line it might make more sense to have a back like Booker because we have a need for a runner who can get out in space and make people miss on his own but with powerful run blockers like the ones in this class it makes more sense to go with the traditional runner like Hershel.
We want to make clear that this comparison is not meant to slight anyone because there is a reason these two players were ranked among the best in the country. More important, both are great kids who deserve all the attention and hype they received. It may have seemed at times as if Lorenzo was enjoying that spotlight a little too much but his enthusiasm was genuine and a sharp contrast to the quiet demeanor of Dennis. For the most part Hershel is a shy kid who simply tosses the ball to the referee after scoring a touchdown but if you ask any of the coaches or players at Poly who the heart and soul of the team is they will not hesitate when pointing their fingers toward the one they call "Patch".
It will be interesting to see what happens at the next level but there is no doubt which one we will be following with greater interest. We wish Lorenzo well at Florida State but Hershel has been our guy from the start and we couldn't be happier that he will be the one wearing Cardinal and Gold.