May 5, 2006

Boothe Named Sun's Athlete of the Year '06

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The big guy was getting a little nervous.

Names flickered across the bottom of the television like stocks being bought on Wall Street. He waited.

Finally, as ESPN was talking about one of the top-10 picks in the entire NFL draft, it was official – Kevin Boothe, offensive lineman, sixth round, Oakland Raiders.

Back at home, in Plantation Fla., the big guy took a big sigh of relief. He spoke briefly to Oakland head coach Art Shell and offensive line coach Jackie Slater – both Hall-of-Famers on the O-Line. He hung up, and sat down. He did it.

“It’s crazy,” Boothe said over the phone on Tuesday. “Just thinking back, it was just yesterday when I was coming to Cornell. I kind of had a bit of the butterflies about going on to the NFL. But I’m ready, I’ve learned a lot about myself and football in the last five years. I’m looking forward to take the next step.”

However, Boothe is not merely the Cornell Daily Sun’s Senior Athlete of the Year for that most recent step last Sunday. Instead, it is because of all of those little steps in between arriving at Cornell and departing for the NFL that has made him one of the most successful and recognizable athletes in his class.

But an offensive lineman? Recognizable? Sure, it’s obvious that Boothe has almost every accolade a Division I-AA lineman could attain – first team All-American and four-time All-Ivy selection. Besides that though, it is hard to quantify his impact with the position he plays. Perhaps the easiest way to do it is just to watch him.

“He’s the only offensive lineman I have ever seen who would draw cheers from the crowd,” said Cornell head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “When you showed film of him to the rest of the team … it was an example [of how to play].”

Last season, when the Red earned a successful 6-4 season, Boothe was not hard to miss. Watching this 6-4, 310-pound linemen push around Ivy opponents like shopping carts was almost poetic – both for his mastery of his foe, and the mere fact that his pushing led teammates sophomore running back Luke Siwula and senior Ryan Kuhn to 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Manhandling defensive linemen on a consistent basis, yes, that’s usually a great example of how to play.

“We’re kind of anonymous – if we’re getting talked about, most of the time, it’s for a bad reason … [When we do well,] we feel just as good as the other guys. We knew we had a role in that success,” he said.

However, when his team needed a yard, they almost always went through Boothe.

“I think anybody who’s competitive wants their number called in crucial situations, so that’s something I’m looking forward to. It’s something I took pride in,” he said.

The man’s toughness is unquestioned. After breaking both of his hands, Boothe missed only one week before coming out and playing – even with Cornell in the midst of an atrocious 1-9 season. He’s battled several injuries over his time at East Hill, including an ankle injury that made him miss freshman year, but he has quietly persevered.

“There’s nobody tougher,” Knowles said. “He never would say a word. You could totally count on him, even if he was hurt, to play through the pain.”

Boothe is a rarity. He’s the first Cornell player drafted in the NFL Draft since Chad Levitt ’97 and Seth Payne ’97 in 1997 and, as Knowles notes, the specter of someone from East Hill playing in one of the most popular leagues in the nation is almost as rare as a comet sighting.

“The statistics don’t lie,” Knowles said. “The Ivy League, these days, is going to have one guy each year who is going to be drafted.”

Draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. said that the lineman could go as high as the second round, other scouts thought he’d go early on the second day. Boothe had dropped at least 40 pounds since his freshman year to become the lean, mean blocking machine that opponents feared and teammates loved. But on Sunday, with his family around him, he was still nervous. He had taken all of the little steps to get to that couch that day, overcoming serious injury, leading the football team back from Ivy League obscurity and establishing himself as Cornell’s most important player – even though he is, well, only an offensive lineman.

But luckily for him, his name was called. He’s in California now, participating in mini-camp, taking steps he could not even imagined when he first came to Ithaca.

As for the program he left behind, his tracks are still prevalent. His larger-than-life picture is the background of a ceiling-to-floor display box talking about the new football team under Knowles. And on one of the trophies, his name is imprinted. The award? The team’s Pop Warner Most Valuable Player.

Not bad for just an offensive lineman.

“It’s a great honor to be looked upon that way and it’s something that I will definitely cherish,” Boothe said about The Sun’s award. “It’s an exciting award and it shows that people do pay attention to an offensive lineman.”

Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Senior Writer