Booker takes one last look around

It's almost over. For Lorenzo Booker, the 5-11, 175-pound running back from Ventura (Calif.) Saint Bonaventure, and top prep recruit in the country, it's the culmination of nearly two years of hard work, thorough research and some advice by those closest to him.

"In general I would say that it's been fun at times but it's also been frustrating at times," Booker told last night about the recruiting process that has seen him go from Tallahassee, Florida to Seattle, Washington and seemingly all points in-between. "But definitely I've had a good time with everything and I know that everyone wants to know where I'm going. That just comes with the territory."

Lorenzo gave us his capsule thoughts on the four teams vying for his letter-of-intent.

Florida State - "FSU is my childhood favorite and they have a tremendous winning tradition. Bobby Bowden. What more do you have to say? He's a legend. He's awesome!"

Booker had a funny anecdote about Bowden. "I'd have to say the funniest thing I can remember about him was when he tried to say my nickname in that southern drawl of his," he said. "'LLLL-Boooogieee.' (laughs) It was just the way he said it. But I will never forget what he told me about my decision. He said, 'If it's been your dream to play somewhere, go there. Don't let anyone talk you out of it.'"

Notre Dame - "They have a great tradition, great academics and great exposure being on TV every weekend. The coaching staff is excellent. If I went there, it would be nice knowing that my lineman James Bonelli is going there too. He's a hard worker. He's put in three years of hard work to get where he's at and that just makes me want to work just as hard."

Lorenzo added his thoughts about the new coach for the Irish. "Coach (Ty) Willingham just talked about the whole aspect of things," he said about Willingham's in-home visit. "Just about growing up and getting better in all areas - spiritually, athletically and academically. He just wants to help me get better."

Washington - "Coach Neuheiesel. Wow. What a great guy. The system they run is an ideal one for me. They have sellouts every week and I know they are going to win. And they have lots of returning starters and the whole coaching staff is great. Coach Neuheisel has to be the biggest player's coach ever. I know a lot of coaches won't take the time to really get to know their players and get that involved, but he is a very hands-on coach."

Bobby Hauck was the main coach that stopped by the Booker household this past week for the Huskies. "Coach Hauck is great!" Lorenzo said. "Man, I wish he was my position coach. Coach (Tony) Alford was my favorite running backs coach that I've met, but I totally understand why he left. I could see myself playing for Coach Hauck. It's too bad he coaches the secondary and special teams." (laughs)

When asked about who the Huskies are going to hire to take Alford's spot, Lorenzo wasn't fazed by the apparent delay in finding a suitable replacement. "They've been telling me that they are going to hire someone good and not just go for a quick hire," he said. "I like that. That is going to have a minimal impact on my decision. I am not going to base my decision on one coach."

And lastly, USC. "Well, seeing the Annenberg school is impressive," Booker said. "Seeing it in person was great. Besides that, I already knew a lot of what was at USC, but it was great to learn more about the school. The coaching staff is energetic and I know I could go home on the weekends if I wanted to. They offer everything you would expect a hometown school to offer. I'm sure it's the same reason why Reggie Williams and Paul Arnold stayed close to home and chose Washington, for example. It's so convenient."

Booker acknowledged that he did, in fact, go to San Diego this past weekend, mostly to chill out and escape the clutches of the process for at least a day. "I went to San Diego State on Saturday and came back Sunday," he said. "I have a friend, Adam Gray-Hayward, who was on my team when I was a sophomore. I went to visit him and to just have a good time. I did. The coaches were great. They didn't pressure me at all. I just wanted to lay low for a bit. I promised Adam I would visit there."

Now that he's been to five campuses, we decided to conduct a small, one-man survey with Mr. Booker. Top staff? "I couldn't pick a top coaching staff, but a head coach? Well, Bobby Bowden is a legend," Lorenzo said. "He's the only one that's won a national championship."

The nicest campus? "Campus life is tough," he said. "I'd have to say the one real vivid memory I have is when I was at Washington and coming out of the tunnel at the stadium. There's a long walk down where we ended up in the middle of the field. I love that tunnel. It was cold and a little foggy, a real football atmosphere when I was there. I liked the Coliseum too. It was very nice. And I had a chance at Florida State to see an actual game-day there. I was there for the N.C. State game. They lost that game."

And food? Booker remembers fondly one specific dish that blew all the others out of the water. "All the restaurants and the food I had was incredible, but there was this one place in Tallahassee called the Silver Slipper," he said. "They made this dessert called 'Bananas Foster'. It starts with ice cream and some bananas. Then they heat up some syrup and pour the hot, cooked syrup over the ice cream and bananas. It was unbelievable. And when I went on other trips, nobody had it! I looked everywhere."

And finally, who were the players that really stood out amongst his leaders? "At Washington, Reggie Williams and Paul Arnold were great," he said. "They were super cool to me. And Willie Hurst too. He was so funny. At USC, it was great seeing Keary Colbert. I've known him for so long it's almost like we're family. Anquan Boldin and Travis Johnson were the ones from Florida State that I remember the most. Man, you would never know that Travis came from California. He's got the accent down and everything! He told me, 'When you come, it'll take a little while to get used to everything, but then you'll love it,'. At Notre Dame, Vontez Duff was cool. Lorenzo Crawford was my host. Those guys are wild there! And I have to say that it was a lot different than I expected. I thought it was going to be a lot more straight-laced, but no way. I have to say I think that trip to Notre Dame surprised me the most. I thought it was going to be in this little rinky-dink town, but I had fun. It was cold as heck though."

Weather still is not going to be an obstacle for Booker. In fact, that's something he is very adamant about. "I still feel that way," he said. "I have to find the best fit for me, regardless of weather. I need to find the best opportunity for me to show what I can do. If that means I have to deal with some rain in Seattle or some snow in South Bend, so be it."

Lorenzo broke down for us some of the key points he's focusing on when it comes to choosing a school. "I'm looking at the o-lines and trying to figure out who is going to be good, not just now but in the future too," he said. "I'm looking to see who played last year, and whether they are going to have new players there or the same players. And I'm seeing who is coming back at running back. I'm going to work very hard in college, but if a school has 6 running backs ahead of me...and I'm also looking at the defense too. I want to play for a great team. I'm looking at the overall picture. It takes more than one player to win a game."

He went into some detail about the research he has already put in. "I have media guides from each school I've been checking out," he said. "I'm looking at the stats for each game from each school. I'm looking to see who gets the carries, is it primarily one player, two players, three players? Can they catch the ball? And actually, from a player's standpoint, I feel like I can make the biggest impact right away at Notre Dame and Washington. They both have really good offensive lines coming back. Florida State does too, but they have a few running backs coming back too. And USC has some players coming back as well."

The notion of family is a consideration Lorenzo's been taking seriously, but he's been given his Mother's blessing to pursue his dream, wherever that may take him. "Well, I don't think my Mom ever said that she wanted me to stay close, but I know that she would like me to stay close," he said. "But she knows that I need to find the best fit for me and being gone for 3 or 4 years is a small sacrifice to pay to make sure that I'm comfortable and that I've made the decision that's best for me and my life outside of football."

'Life outside of football' speaks directly to the idea of a degree, and Booker has some definite ideas as to where he feels the best fit is. "Well, I do feel that some degrees carry more weight than others," he said. "Notre Dame's degree seems to me to be the best one. That's a huge advantage for them, but I know that I will get a good degree from all the schools I'm looking at. And if I stay home, I know the USC degree will also carry a lot of weight. I come from Southern California, born and raised. That's all I know."

With all the research, consultation and deliberation that Lorenzo has gone through, you might find it surprising that he's still searching for that something extra that will separate one school from the rest of the pack. "I really am just waiting for that feeling to come to me, whether if I'm asleep or just waking up," he said. "I'm going to take as long as I can. All the schools offer so much that I can't lose. It's a great problem to have. I still need to go through the positives and negatives again, but when I make my decision, I'm going to do like Bobby Bowden said and not look back."

Lorenzo will be making his decision on ESPN at 3PM at the Casa Sirena Hotel Wednesday afternoon. Stay tuned.

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