Boone wants to bring another national championship to Buckeye-ville

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 23, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

If you taught at or attended Suffolk public schools in the early 1990s, chances are you knew LeAndre Boone. &uot;I moved around a lot when I was younger,&uot; says the 21-year-old. &uot;I went to Elephant’s Fork and Nansemond Parkway elemen-tary schools and Forest Glen and John F. Kennedy middle schools.&uot; Later on, he moved to Portsmouth, where he graduated from Herndon High School in 2000.

Though he’d played a season for the Inner-City Steelers Pop Warner league, Boone didn’t see football as his cup of Gatorade. Instead, he was a four-year standout in Trucker basketball and ran track as a junior and senior.

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&uot;I never really had my own place on the basketball court,&uot; he admits. &uot;I didn’t really like the shin splints, leg cramps, and sore feet that came from running track.&uot;

Just before his final year at Herndon, Boone’s older brother Benjamin convinced him to strap on the pads. &uot;He told me, ‘Don’t have any regrets! You’re never going to get your senior year back.’&uot;

Even in his first game, Boone wasn’t certain of his job on the field. &uot;The coach told me to run a reverse. I asked what that was, and he said to just run around and get the ball.&uot;

Boone charged down the line, and took the handoff from his teammate. &uot;I just held the ball out, put my head to the sky, and ran. I knew they weren’t going to catch me.&uot; He was right; 80 yards later, the novice senior had scored a touchdown.

Boone played cornerback, running back, wide receiver, and kick returner on a Trucker team that went from 2-8 in 1999 to 8-2 in 2000. After graduation, Boone headed to Fork Union military school near Charlottesville.

&uot;My love for football was developing,&uot; he remembers. &uot;I thought that this was my ticket to college.&uot;

Schools like Michigan State and Pittsburgh came calling, but Boone decided to enroll at Ohio State. After checking out the starting Buckeyes, he decided to redshirt his freshman year.

&uot;I knew I wasn’t going to play much at safety behind Mike Doss and Donnie Nickey,&uot; he smiles. Doss, a three-time All-American, was drafted by Indianapolis in the 2003 NFL draft, and Nickey, a four-year starter, headed to Tennessee.

Boone might have felt out of place as the season began. But as it went on, the Buckeyes defeated Washington State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue and Michigan on the way to a 12-0 regular season.

Then, last Jan. 2, in one of the greatest NCAA championships in recent memory, Maurice Clarett ran five yards in the closing moments as Ohio State (11.5 point underdogs) rushed to a 31-24, double-overtime victory over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl, making them the top team in the nation and ending the Hurricanes’ 34-game winning streak.

&uot;It still hasn’t sunk in,&uot; Boone says. &uot;The hunger that I have inside makes me want to get back to the top. It’s going to make the bulls-eye on our back a little bigger next season, because everyone’s going to circling us on their calendar and bringing us their best game.&uot; The Buckeyes begin defense of their title on Aug. 30 when they host Washington.

&uot;We have our sights set on the championship again,&uot; says Boo-ne. &uot;The easy road to take is not always the best one. You have to put yourself in a challenging situation. Not one that’s so bad you can’t handle it, but one where you can thrive. Everyone on our team is on the same page, marching together with camaraderie and love.&uot;