Gilman’s Thomas Booker decided early that he would never “sacrifice scholarship for a scholarship.”
No matter how many alluring opportunities he earned to play Power 5 college football, Thomas Booker the four-star defensive end would not take precedence over Thomas Booker the five-star student.
“At the beginning of my college process, I was always looking for a school that was at the highest level of academics and at the highest level of athletics possible and one that blended the two pretty seamlessly, where academics and athletics not only went together but complemented each other. There was a short list of schools that did that, places like Stanford, places like Notre Dame, places like the Ivy League.”
Booker, who has a 95.17 academic average and plans to major in economics, would like to become a top executive in a cutting-edge technology company, so he was drawn to Stanford and its history of turning out innovators. Stanford isn’t bad on the football field either — a Top 20 program headed to next week’s Alamo Bowl.
That was big thing for me, going to a place that’s really the intersection of innovation and excellence, and that also reflects in the football team as well.
Gilman's Thomas Booker on Stanford
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Wednesday, the first day of the new signing period for football, Booker will sign with Stanford. Most of the nation’s top players, including nearly two dozen from the Baltimore area will sign national letters of intent to receive football scholarships from Wednesday to Friday. Others will wait until the later signing period that starts in February.
While Booker also considered Notre Dame, Harvard, Princeton and Penn, he committed to Stanford in October and will join former Greyhounds teammates Dorian Maddox and Devery Hamilton in Palo Alto, Calif.
Maddox and Hamilton did their share of recruiting, but Booker said Stanford really didn’t need much help.
“What really put Stanford ahead for me was the fact that it had Silicon Valley in its backyard,” Booker said. “Ever since I’ve been a middle schooler and we’d have the book fairs, I’ve always been the one checking out the books about technology. It would talk about who founded these companies like Google and Apple, who were the top executives and it would say what college they went to and you’d see recurring themes of Stanford.”
Nearly two dozen local high school football players are expected sign national letters of intent during the new NCAA early signing period beginning Wednesday, but some coaches still have reservations about moving signing day six weeks earlier.
Those books started Booker thinking that Stanford, “which keeps on producing these spectacular people,” was the place for him.
“To me Stanford’s a place where people go and lead industry and they create industries we don’t even know about yet,” he said. “That was big thing for me, going to a place that’s really the intersection of innovation and excellence and that also reflects in the football team as well. Stanford’s [football] motto is ‘Intellectual brutality,’ and I can’t really think of a place that’s better suited to have a motto like that.”
Booker, 18, said Stanford defensive line coach Diron Reynolds told him he will have the opportunity to prove he can play right away, but if the coaches decide he needs more time to develop, he’s fine with that.
At Gilman, where he’s been enrolled since pre-first grade, Booker was one of only two freshmen to make the varsity team three years ago. He didn’t get on the field many Fridays, but he honed his skills against teammates who were some of Baltimore’s best players.
“We had a thing in practice called ‘no regret Tuesdays’ where they put us one-on-one in the trenches,” Booker said. “It would be me vs. Taron [Vincent], me vs. Ellison [Jordan], so that was where a lot of us got better, competing against guys that — Devery Hamilton is starting right now at Stanford. When you have those sorts of caliber players on your team as freshmen and you can go at it with them, it gives you a lot of confidence in the future.”
At 6 feet 5, 290 pounds, he grew to excel at defensive end with his strength and quickness, forcing teams to run away from him but still able to make tackles from the back side. He hones his strength and speed on the Greyhounds track team where he throws the shot put and discus, and working out with the sprinters.
A two-time All-Metro football selection, he almost never left the field this fall, also playing tight end or offensive tackle to help the No. 8 Greyhounds reach the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference final.
“He’s a highly touted defensive end,” Gilman coach Tim Holley said, “and when I talked to the Stanford coaches who came to Gilman, they felt he was an ideal fit for what they do out there. He’s clearly been an ideal fit for us at Gilman.”
Booker, who couldn’t play football until the sixth grade because of weight limits in the younger leagues, has always wanted to compete to be the best. He said some of that stems from being raised in a “results-oriented family,” where his father, Tom Booker, is business/financial consultant, his mother, Ava Lias-Booker, is a partner in a prestigious Baltimore law firm, and his sister, Sydney, is in law school at Duke.
However, Booker said, a lot of his motivation to excel comes from within.
“I’ve been wanting to be able to wax eloquent on literature and then at the same time be able to dominate on the football field and be able to lead my class in student government. It’s been a kind of a lifelong thing with me where I don’t really get to compromise on anything, because life isn’t really a one-sided thing,” said Booker, who is vice president of the Gilman senior class and serves on the school’s honor board and judiciary board, which adjudicate issues of student conduct.
Tom Booker, who played football at Gilman and at Wisconsin, saw that drive early in his son’s football career. By eighth grade, Thomas was playing for the Hamilton Tigers and also for a Maryland all-star team traveling around the country. That level of play made Thomas realize he wanted to compete for a chance to play football on the highest level, in the NFL if he could make it.
“We think competing is what it’s all about,” Tom Booker said, “knowing how to compete constructively, so … when I saw him embracing that in everything he does, that’s when I kind of knew. I asked him as an eighth-grader: ‘I watched you do this — and I played Division I football, Big Ten — I think you can do this if you would like to. Now, it’s a lot of work and you have to be exceedingly devoted to the craft. … ’ He not only [put in the work], but he did it willingly and with passion and when that happened, it was just about getting the film in the can. He really did have a passion for this game.”
While he works toward a possible NFL career, Thomas Booker can’t wait to face the challenge of Stanford academics. He’s already had a taste, in a seven-week summer program before his junior year on the Palo Alto campus. He took two courses — in economics and in African-American literature — and earned an “A” in both. Now, he’s ready to get started on his plan to become a captain of technological industry.
“You look at all these people like Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt and they’re doing fantastic things in society, not only with their technology but with philanthropy, and that’s something that I want to do because I think, especially with an economics major, we need to understand what people need and maybe like a minor in computer science, so you have knowledge of how to apply those things to figure out how to fix these problems. That’s a position that I’d like to have.”