Booker makes the most of it

Times Staff Writer

So, it didn't turn out quite as Lorenzo Booker had planned.

He didn't win two national championships at Florida State, or the Heisman Trophy, or the national acclaim some had predicted for him out of Ventura St. Bonaventure High in 2002, where he was, by many accounts, the nation's top tailback prospect.

Booker, a fifth-year senior, will play his last collegiate game Wednesday in the Emerald Bowl against UCLA -- not the way most Bruins seniors planned it either.

Booker picked Florida State over Notre Dame, USC and Washington, and what does he have to show for it?

You can start with a degree, in English creative writing, three Atlantic Coast Conference football championships in his five years on campus, and probably a bright future in the NFL.

With 122 receiving yards against UCLA, Booker will join Warrick Dunn as the only players in school history to rush for at least 2,000 yards and have 1,000 yards receiving.

Really? Lorenzo Booker?

The off-campus consensus had it that his promising career drifted into the abyss.

It's true Florida State's record steadily declined in Booker's four years in the lineup -- he red-shirted in 2002 -- going from 10-3, 9-3, 8-5 to this year's 6-6.

Booker has gained 525 rushing yards this year and also has 28 receptions for 303 yards.

Yet, sitting in the sports information office at Doak Campbell Stadium, two days before he was set to don his graduation cap-and-gown, Booker said he had no regrets.

"I wanted to come to Florida State," Booker said. "I love Florida State. I got to play with a bunch of great athletes that made me better. I made lifelong friends. Even football-wise, I got more than enough jewelry. I got three BCS rings, three conference championship rings.... When you compare yourself to 95% of college players, I accomplished a lot more than they have."

Anyone can play the what-if game.

Booker might have pulled into USC just at the time Pete Carroll was kick-starting his dynasty.

But there was nothing dynastic about USC then.

It was Pete Carroll, not Bobby Bowden, who went 6-6 in 2001, while Florida State was coming off a stretch unparalleled in college football history -- 14 straight seasons ranked in the top five.

Who knew?

"When I was growing up at home USC was getting their doors blown off," Booker said. "They got killed in the Las Vegas Bowl."

Booker was referring to USC's 10-6 bowl loss to Utah in Carroll's first season.

In that game, the Trojans amassed one rushing yard.

"People then were probably saying they couldn't do it," Booker said. "And now they're going on a good run.... It's one of those things. What USC did was awesome, but people forget we went to the national championship four out of five years. We went '96, '98, '99 and 2000. We did that too."

Booker arrived at Florida State during interesting times.

He never lost a varsity game at St. Bonaventure, going 42-0 while scoring 137 touchdowns.

He expected similar success in Tallahassee.

The Seminoles, though, were forced to use two quarterbacks, Chris Rix and Drew Weatherford, who started as freshmen -- unheard of in the glory days of Florida State.

Bowden used to start only redshirt juniors as quarterback. Charlie Ward, who won the Heisman and led Florida State to its national title in 1993, waited that long to play.

Chris Weinke was a sophomore when he led the Seminoles to their second title in 1999, but Weinke also was 26, having returned to college after a minor-league baseball career.

"I wish we could have had it better for Booker," Bowden said, "But Booker will come out good. He'll have a good career [in the NFL]."

Booker was recently selected to play in the Senior Bowl, an important invitation for prospective pros.

"That's the bowl all these kids want," Bowden said. "Because it's picked and coached by pros. You don't get in that bowl unless the pros like you."

Booker gained a lot of yards, a lot of friends, a lot of respect for what Bowden has accomplished and what he's enduring now.

"In football, like most professions, you've got to find a scapegoat," Booker said. "It's a shame he's been able to do all the things he's done here and a couple of bad seasons and he doesn't have it anymore? That's just the way it is ... to win conference three out of five years. I didn't know that was unacceptable. When [Joe] Paterno and Penn State were losing, we were winning the conference, going to BCS bowls. That just shows the expectations around here.

"I think people lose sight of that. Not to say we're content with our situation, but just understand we're really not as bad as people think we are."

Life doesn't always turn out how you plan.

Sometimes it's better, sometimes it's worse.

Sometimes it's a Wednesday, two days after Christmas, and your team is teeing it up in San Francisco, ready to take on UCLA.

"It's a game, a chance to prove myself again," Booker said of the Emerald Bowl. "Regardless of who you are playing, it's what have you done for me lately.... For me it's my last game ... you try to pump the guys up, because they're competitors, so they'll get themselves up, maybe not to the extent of a BCS bowl game but, for me, it's like playing Florida or Miami."



The book on Booker

Lorenzo Booker's career statistics at Florida State:

*--* RU RECE SH IVIN IN G G Year At Yds Avg. TD Long YPG Rec. Yds Avg. TD Long YPG t. 2006 121 525 4.3 2 34 43.8 28 303 10.8 0 73 25.2 2005 119 552 4.6 4 58 42.5 38 329 8.7 2 71 25.3 2004 173 887 5.1 4 53 73.9 24 160 6.7 0 25 13.3 2003 62 334 5.4 3 71 33.4 19 86 4.5 0 20 8.6 Totals 475 2,298 4.4 13 71 50.0 109 878 8.1 2 73 19.1





UCLA vs. Florida State

Wednesday at San Francisco

5 p.m. (TV: ESPN)

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