Dante Booker, Chris Worley Eager For Opportunity to Fulfill Sky High Expectations In Place as Ohio State Linebackers

By Eric Seger on August 9, 2016 at 1:36 pm
Inside how Dante Booker and Chris Worley are handling being first time starters at Ohio State and living up to towering expectations.

When asked about Dante Booker and Chris Worley following in the footsteps of draft picks Darron Lee and Joshua Perry, Luke Fickell didn't stutter.

"There's a standard set and at the Will linebacker spot, it's not just 37," Fickell said Tuesday morning shortly after Ohio State's third practice of 2016 fall camp. "There's a guy that was No. 10, Ryan Shazier. There's a guy that was No. 47, A.J. Hawk. There's a standard set. That's what we expect you to live up to. That's hard, that's tough, but that's kind of the way we work around here."

Shazier and Hawk both played for NFL franchises last season. Ohio State pumps out draft picks annually, usually near the top of draft. Lee went 20th overall to the New York Jets in the 2016 NFL Draft, while Perry came off the board in the fourth round to San Diego. Now, Fickell and his boss, Urban Meyer, expect the two guys in line to replace them to be in the same position at this time next year.

“At a place like this, you get an opportunity you’ve gotta take it and run with it. "This is not a place where you get a bunch of second opportunities so for this first opportunity I get, I’ve gotta try to make the most of it.”– Chris Worley

"I believe young men live up to what you expect of them," Fickell said. "If we expect them to be the next starter, they'll be the next starter. But if we expect them to be the next All-American and great one, I believe they'll live up to it."

Fickell also alluded to three-time All-American, Bronko Nagurski Award winner and current New Orleans Saints linebacker James Laurinaitis. Another massive name to live up to, but now with their first chance to be full-time starters as juniors, Worley and Booker know they can't miss it.

"At a place like this, you get an opportunity you’ve gotta take it and run with it," Worley said Tuesday. "This is not a place where you get a bunch of second opportunities so for this first opportunity I get, I’ve gotta try to make the most of it."

Added Booker: "Got some pretty big shoes to fill, but I feel like so far I've took some steps forward and I feel pretty comfortable."

Worley started the 2014 season opener at Navy before he lost the job to Lee, who exploded on the scene and blossomed into a national star. He possessed the unique ability to run with wide receivers downfield and in the flat but still have the necessary size to make big plays rushing the passer and in the run game. Booker stepped in for Perry during Ohio State's 38-10 victory against Penn State last October after the latter went down with an ankle injury.

So each has experience but had to sit and wait their turn behind two stars. Now they can't afford to miss that turn with young talent behind them like Jerome Baker, Justin Hilliard and others. Fickell feels they are ready.

"They're not, we talk about the 44 guys that are freshmen that have either redshirted or never played a down," he said. "That's one of those things that really, you can lay your head on a pillow at night knowing those guys are legitimate guys. They live sleep and breathe our culture."

Fickell called Worley the "heart and soul" of the linebacker room, likening him to Curtis Grant. He provides energy and his demeanor is what Ohio State's linebackers coach expects to see in front of the youth learning how to deal with college life.

"The head coach will tell you he loves to be around them," Fickell said.

Fickell does too, and both Worley and Booker know they have towering expectations in front of them. It comes with the territory of entering training camp as the lead guy at a position on a team that has so much youth it is staggering. They had a pair of pretty good players ahead of them to help, too.

"I learned a ton," Booker said. "Big shoes to fill, but he set a standard for me. Just watched how he worked, how he prepared for the game, prepared for practice. Just really gotta follow his footsteps."

Because if they don't, that youth will be on the field instead of them.

"It's definitely exciting, but I just keep the same mindset," Booker said. "Don't worry about it, I just gotta keep doing my job and keep going as hard as I can and it's always good to have some young guys behind you pushing you."

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