MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

MESA, Ariz. – Football players tend to get a bad rap. Not for play on the field, but for the off-field issues that tend to cloud up the media and the athletes’ reputations.

A constant stream of mishaps by professional athletes have soured the populous’ opinion of its gridiron heroes. However, for every foul mistake, there are countless players with untold stories of hard work and positive community influences. Arizona’s OL JOHN BOOKER is just one of many players in the Rattlers’ locker room that makes a positive impact on and off the field.

At 6’4” inches and 315 pounds, it is difficult to imagine Booker as anything but a football player; yet, the offensive lineman is a gentle giant when it comes to children, attributing his lightheartedness and love of kids to the guidance of his mother, Pamela Emerson.

Booker was encouraged to first join the Y-Kidz program in 2009, after he was released by the San Francisco 49ers, because of his uncanny ability to connect with children. Y-Kidz is an after school day care program sponsored by the YMCA.

“I’m great with kids,” said Booker. “It’s incredibly rewarding to help them with their school work and be a role model for them.”

As a member of the Y-Kidz after school program, Booker has worked as a mentor for children ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“We try to reinforce what they’re learning in school,” explained Booker. “First we do the night’s homework, then we might play outside for a bit, and we end with an academic lesson.”

On the field this season, Booker has had an impact as both an offensive lineman and an eligible receiver. Booker leads all Rattlers linemen and running backs with eight receptions for 59 yards and two touchdowns. Last week (June 25), his one-yard touchdown reception with five seconds remaining in the fourth quarter gave Arizona a 55-54 win over the Philadelphia Soul.

“It’s a play we’ve run before,” explained Booker. “We force the jack linebacker to decide if he’ll cover me or Odie [Armstrong]. He went after Odie, so I was wide open. It felt like I was open for 10 minutes before Nick [Davila] threw it, and once the ball was in the air it got tipped. I was concentrating so hard on that wobbly ball – I’m just glad I caught it.

Throughout this year, Booker has drawn on the strength of his coaches and teammates for support.

“This season has been amazing because the entire team is a tight knit family,” elaborated Booker. “It helps that we’re 13-2, but the locker room is filled with guys that like laughing and hanging out together. It’s great to be a part of this team.”

By Paul Zukauskas

pz@azrattlers.com

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