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Gilman junior is all-around athlete on and off football field

Gilman junior Thomas Booker has received scholarship offers from Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference schools.
Gilman junior Thomas Booker has received scholarship offers from Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference schools. (staff photo by Jennifer Rynda)

By the time all 6-feet-4-inches and 260 pounds of Thomas Booker's considerable speed and power arrive on the scene at the college football program in two years, there's a good chance the Gilman standout will have a major impact on his new team's fortunes.

After all, there's always the likelihood that adding maturity and muscle over the next two seasons will make the tight end/defensive end prospect an even better player than he is now playing for coach Tim Holley's Greyhounds, and that's saying a lot.

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On the academic side of things, though, there's not much need to wonder how he'll do in the classroom, given his performance over the summer at Stanford University.

Booker took classes in economics and African-American science fiction literature on the Palo Alto campus for college credit.

It's not surprising to Holley that the 16-year-old junior received A's in both courses for his work in the classroom at an institution with such rigorous academic standards.

"The kid is brilliant," said Holley, who was a teammate of Booker's dad — also named Thomas — at Gilman before Holley went on to play baseball at the University of Pennsylvania and Thomas Booker played football at the University of Wisconsin. "He was worried about getting an A in one of the courses because a paper he wrote was too long. I mean, not many people write a paper and worry that it's too long, but he did."

Holley said that Booker has it all.

"As precocious as he is as an athlete he is even more precocious academically," Holley added. "Thomas is just outstanding in every possible way — top shelf in every aspect of his life. And the great thing is, he uses all of his assets to the best of his ability."

While Booker's future looks bright on the football field, his present — and recent past — on the gridiron are also stellar.

Last season, he caught 11 passes good for 126 yards and three touchdowns at tight end while producing a slew of sacks as a defensive rush end.

Yet one of his biggest strengths, as highlighted on a long series of video highlights featured on TheWolverine.com website, is his blocking prowess while being used as an H-back.

"He's our best offensive lineman," Holley said. "Thomas is a tremendous blocker."

Booker is shown making several key blocks against a variety opponents as a sophomore on the site that said the University of Michigan offered him an athletic scholarship back in April.

According to TheWolverine.com, Michigan's offer was the first received by Booker, who added that he also has athletic scholarship offers from the universities of Maryland and Pittsburgh, Boston College, and Duke, Vanderbilt, Northwestern and Indiana universities.

"Being in the door before anyone else is a big boost for Michigan even though Maryland came through immediately after," it said on the site. "That they've been strong in the DMV/Baltimore areas in recent years certainly doesn't hurt. While (former Gilman coach) Biff Poggi, the father of Michigan senior Henry, (Poggi) is no longer at Gilman, there's still familiarity with 2016 offensive lineman and (Gilman alumnus) Stephen Spanellis (currently in) Ann Arbor."

St. Frances Academy coach Henry Russell, a former associate coach and linebackers coach at Gilman, said that all of Booker's accolades are well deserved.

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"He works harder than anybody in his class at Gilman," Russell said. "He always pushes himself to get better and wants to learn. He would really take coaching and apply it to the field. If you look at where he started last summer (2015) to where he finished the season against McDonogh, he was like a whole different player.

"You don't often see a kid with his size and strength and athletic ability and grades," he added. "He is extremely rare. Any coach would want him on their team. That's why you are seeing so many offers come his way."

Despite his skill as a blocker, Booker makes it perfectly clear what he prefers to do on the field.

"I like to score touchdowns and get sacks," said Booker, who did both in a key victory over Washington Catholic Athletic Conference power Our Lady of Good Counsel last fall.

He also caught a 6-yard pass for a touchdown in a 23-17 loss to the Falcons on Sept. 18 in Roland Park at Sotir Field.

Holley said that there are several ways to use Booker in his offense, including "by getting him in space" where he can run around or over defenders.

The coach made a favorable comparison of Booker's style to that of Baltimore Colts Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey.

"He's not a burner," Holley said. "But he's a big kid with great hands. Really, he's a presence on both sides of the ball for us. We're blessed to have him."

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