The usual questions about football came and went, and Dante Booker Jr. and Parris Campbell Jr. answered honestly and with a straight face.
Questions such as who is faster and who is stronger.
“Parris is,” Booker said when the who is faster question arose. Campbell said: “I am” simultaneously.
Who is stronger? Campbell said: “Dante is.” Booker said “I am.”
What about who is funnier and a better dancer and singer?
Booker and Campbell, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School seniors and Ohio State recruits, smiled at each other and laughed.
The momentary pause was filled by Campbell.
“Outside of football, we can both be characters,” he said. “We both have our times where we crack some jokes. We can be two clowns. We like to have fun. That is everybody around here though. Everybody likes to clown around.”
St. V-M coach Dan Boarman laughed when the question was posed to him because he has been around the dynamic duo since they were freshmen.
“They are both real quiet leaders,” Boarman said. “Neither one is real loud. Just speaking to them, you can tell they are quiet. That is really their personality.
“I was joking at our senior meeting about how quiet of a class this is. Normally at our senior meeting prior to the season, you get a lot of guys speaking up and saying things. Not a lot was said by these seniors. I saw Booker after the meeting and said: ‘Book why didn’t you say anything?’ He said: ‘Coach, you know I don’t talk much. I speak with my actions.’ I said. ‘I have no problem with that, but you understand that when you do speak, people listen.’
“I think as he grows more and more he will understand that. He is not a big talker. He is one that does speak with his actions. He is a leader from the standpoint that when he does speak, people do listen to him. It’s the same with Parris. I am trying to get them to speak more.”
Booker, who is 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, makes his presence felt against Fighting Irish opponents by the way he plays linebacker. Campbell, who is 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, dazzles opponents as a running back.
Together, they helped St. V-M win the Division III state championship and post a 13-2 record last season.
OSU and several other Division I colleges coveted each player because their strength and speed stood out so much. Their upbeat and respectful nature also is appealing.
When asked if their college recruitment became a distraction and if it made them arrogant, Boarman said: “Not those two. I know their personalities. They are pretty grounded and they both come from good families who I think keep them grounded. They will not allow them to get an ego or big head. They also know that this game requires a lot of hard work. It is not about talk or ‘look at me. It is about me.’ I think that is the biggest thing and they understand that.”
Path to St. V-M
Booker and Campbell both live in Akron, but in separate directions. Booker, 17, resides in the Ellet neighborhood, and Campbell, 16, hails from North Akron.
They succeeded in pee-wee football and in other youth sports. They did not know each other until theirfreshman year.
“Freshman year, we didn’t really know each other, but as years passed we started talking more and became friends,” Campbell said. “Now we are more friends. I consider us brothers. Our relationship is going to build more and more as we go along.”
Booker agreed the friendship was built during freshman year and added: “We came in and bonded. Once we found out that we are both going to Ohio State, it elevated. It is going to be a good friendship. It is going to be real fun and exciting to go to college together. I am looking forward to it.”
Booker made the Irish varsity as a freshman and worked his way into a starting role. His biggest contribution to the team over the past three seasons has come as a middle linebacker, and he plans to make an impact this season as a tight end.
“Dante came in here as a freshman and already had the physical attributes,” Boarman said. “Dante was probably 6-1. You knew he was going to be big. Dante grew very quickly and I think he was 6-3 during his sophomore year.”
Booker made 90 tackles as a junior. He also had seven sacks, 14 tackles for loss, two interceptions, forced four fumbles and recovered three fumbles.
Campbell earned varsity playing time as a sophomore and started as a junior. He rushed for 1,353 yards on 160 carries and scored 28 touchdowns last season. He averaged 8.4 yards per carry average and his longest touchdown was a 94-yard run.
“Parris is an interesting one, because Parris was short, not very heavy and kind of frail as a freshman,” Boarman said. “You could tell he had good speed, but you didn’t know what kind of a football player he would be. Last year Parris blew up and evolved physically and also as a football player.”
Campbell’s development is interesting to note because he will graduate high school as a 16-year-old. Campbell turns 17 on July 16, 2014. By comparison, Booker will turn 18 on Oct. 2, 2013.
“It is definitely a great experience,” Campbell said of being young for his academic class. “I love it. One thing I really like is being competitive. Competing with these other guys is really fun. When I outwork them, I get a boost because I know that they are older than me. Still, that doesn’t stop. I know I have to continue to work hard and put forth the effort. I don’t think of myself as different. These guys tell me all the time I don’t act my age. They say I am mature for my age. I don’t look at it as a big deal.”
Campbell will also play cornerback this season and return kickoffs and punts.
“We definitely plan to contribute both ways,” Booker said.
Away from football
Booker and Campbell both maintain between a 2.5 and 3.1 grade-point average, and they each play on the basketball team.
“Just knowing that I get to go to Ohio State with one of my best buds is exciting,” Campbell said. “We are going to have a great four or five years there.”
Campbell is a state champion sprinter in track, and Booker enjoys baseball recreationally.
“We both like hanging out and chillin’ with our teammates,” Booker said. “We can get competitive on video games, with basketball and football, but we have fun with it.”
This year and beyond
The Irish return nine starters on defense from the state title team, which excites Booker.
“Defensively, we return a lot of guys,” Booker said. “We return a lot of speed. I think that we can be something special again this year if we keep our head on straight.”
Campbell is one of just two starters returning on offense.
“Offensively, we definitely are not returning as many guys,” Campbell said. “We do have a lot of guys who can step up and fill those spots. I feel like we can be pretty special too.”
Boarman, a 1970 St. Vincent graduate, said he is looking forward to this season and knows a bright future awaits Booker and Campbell in Columbus.
“It is great that they are staying in the state of Ohio,” Boarman said. “I think it is every Ohio high school boy’s dream to play at Ohio State. I think they also realize that they have a few more things to do here in high school and here at St. Vincent-St. Mary. I think it is going to be a good season for them.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.