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Cory Booker's college football fights are reflected in his presidential campaign

That day in his parents' home near Hackensack, it was not Booker's physical features that impressed the gathering. It was his maturity and his dealings with Holtz. After the interview, Booker's high school trainer Jim Miceli recalls that his wife leaned forward and said, "Do you know what? The child could someday become president. "

Booker graduated from Stanford High School. But when he arrived in Palo Alto, California, the expectations he brought with him from New Jersey failed to translate. He played a defeat only in his junior year. And even when he saw the field, he was hardly the star he had had at home. In the four years of college football, Booker never started a game, just captured 20 passes and scored a touchdown.

Interviews with Booker himself, as well as with former coaches and teammates offer a comparison to another time in Booker's life, struggling to meet high expectations. His mistakes on the football field can also explain how Booker deals with the frustrations of a bid in the White House. BERKELEY, CA ̵

1; NOVEMBER 17: Cory Booker No. 81, John Lynch No. 17 and Jason Palumbis No. 12 of the Stanford Cardinal jog on the field before the game against Cal on November 17, 1990 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley , California. BERKELEY, CA – NOVEMBER 17: Cory Booker # 81, John Lynch # 17 and Jason Palumbis # 12 from the Stanford Cardinal jog before the game against Cal on November 17, 1990 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. ” class=”media__image” src=”http://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190717132227-03-cory-booker-football-stanford-0717-restricted-large-169.jpg”/>

As a presidential candidate, Booker appears as a happy warrior. On paper he looks like the ideal democratic candidate: US senator, longtime progressive mayor of a big city, African American and a bridge between the wings of his party. His reputation is more of a pragmatic solution than an ideological rigidity. He even has bipartisan credibility as the main Senate representative for the White House Trump law on criminal justice reform.

And yet things have not clicked. His fundraiser was poor. His message has not prevailed. In a crowded field, he has no trouble mentioning himself. In short, a promising career has so far failed to translate on the biggest stage, though he will have the opportunity to make a splash in the CNN's Democratic debate in Detroit on July 30 and 31.

The parallel is not lost on Booker. either. In an interview at his home in Newark, Booker admits that his failures as a college football player in his mind are still fresh and can be reassigned to his current situation.

"This definitely has echoes of many past experiences of my life, in which I find again a David who goes into a field and has to fight against Goliath," Booker told CNN. "That seems very familiar to me."

A Broader View of Life

There was little doubt that Booker, wherever he was in college, was well positioned to move up to the next level. Holtz was one of a few high profile coaches who called Booker. Duke, UCLA and Stanford recruited him. Former President Gerald Ford personally advocated for Booker to play at the University of Michigan. Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young did the same for Georgia Tech.

This year, Booker was appointed to USA Today's All-USA team. On this list were more than a dozen future NFL players. Big and fast, Booker was a threefold threat that offered a wide receiver, a tight end and security. For the recruiters in college, he was the overall package.

His choice for Stanford – a large conference school with a high academic reputation – also reflected the likelihood that Booker would pursue something other than professional football. He had been his governing council president and a good student.

"I knew then that football would be an exceptional ticket, but not a destination," said Booker.

But Booker did not play in the Stanford team during his first two years. As a full-time fellow, he still trained and trained with the team, but has become an integral part of the campus in other ways.

"You must not miss Cory in a room," said Samantha Davidson Green, a classmate and close friend of Stanford's Booker, to Mackenzie Happe of CNN. He was always kind, he was friendly and warm and sociable, I think some of the football players stayed with them and had their own schedule, Cory always turned to everyone. " different backgrounds. "

Booker was heavily involved in a 24-hour crisis hotline for on-campus students and was an All Pac-10 honors student specializing in political science, and he also volunteered in East Palo Alto, the poorer downtown Cory Booker (# 81) plays against USC in Stanford on October 13, 1990. (Photo / Stanford Athletics) ” data-src-mini=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190717132551-04-cory-booker-football-stanford-0717-restricted-small-169.jpg” data-src-xsmall=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190717132551-04-cory-booker-football-stanford-0717-restricted-medium-plus-169.jpg” data-src-small=”http://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190717132551-04-cory-booker-football-stanford-0717-restricted-large-169.jpg” data-src-medium=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190717132551-04-cory-booker-football-stanford-0717-restricted-exlarge-169.jpg” data-src-large=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190717132551-04-cory-booker-football-stanford-0717-restricted-super-169.jpg” data-src-full16x9=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190717132551-04-cory-booker-football-stanford-0717-restricted-full-169.jpg” data-src-mini1x1=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190717132551-04-cory-booker-football-stanford-0717-restricted-small-11.jpg” data-demand-load=”not-loaded” data-eq-pts=”mini: 0, xsmall: 221, small: 308, medium: 461, large: 781″ src=”data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhEAAJAJEAAAAAAP///////wAAACH5BAEAAAIALAAAAAAQAAkAAAIKlI+py+0Po5yUFQA7″/>

"I always knew he would do that In a way, to be a kind of leader. He was entrepreneurial, very dedicated, "said Paul Nickel, who also ran out of Stanford and was his roommate one summer.

" When you're in Stanford, you run over Many people like that, "said Brian Billick , the former Stanford coach for tight ends, who won a Super Bowl as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. "They have a broader view of life."

This broader view has helped fill in the loopholes created by the Booker now says disappointment over his lack of time.

"These early years at Stanford were the greatest gift for my life," said Booker. "Having two years to become an A student in Stanford and still football and then really fall in love with what my life's goal was, namely the ministry. "

When it became clear that football was not his life, teammates and coaches say Booker has a different K taken. "For a lot of people, that's very tough, very dramatic," said Andy Papathanassiou, another Stanford team-mate. "When the football did not work, he was not one of those guys with a sad face, he became known and active in another area."

It was no surprise that the outgoing football player was voted Senior Class President at Stanford. Coach, Booker recalled, began to call him "Mr. President" in practice. Billick says his nickname for Booker was "the governor" back then.

Finally a chance to play

Nevertheless, Booker's expectations on the field remained high. "Like many people who go to college, Cory has an excellent reputation and great skills," said Papathanassiou. "Cory, like us, dreamed of getting out of it."

Booker had a chance to play in Stanford from age three, with the Cardinal squad now led by head coach Denny Green. Two years younger, Nickel remembers seeing Booker on the practice field for the first time this season. "We ran routes, and I see this big athletic guy in an altercation [formation]," Nickel said. "I remember that he made this incredible one-handed catch."

Booker's role as a versatile tight-end would have been in keeping with Stanford's passport offense. Billick recalls Booker as "very trainable" and a good "all-around player", especially praising his blocking skills. But he struggled to get much playtime over two seasons, getting on the field for only 7 games in 1989 and 13 games in 1990.

Last season, Booker's last in a Stanford uniform, Nickel began at the narrow end. Nickel recalls how Booker took his second position and even appeared as mentor in the movie room and on the practice field. But it was a big disappointment to Booker, watching his dreams of the glory of football ebb away.

"He was aware of and humiliated, but he was not offended or accused," Nickel said that Booker was passed for the starting position over.

"Nice catch by Cory Booker!"

The pinnacle of Booker's college football career was on October 6, 1990 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford took first place in the midst of a weak season against unbeaten Notre Dame, led by Lou Holtz. Booker was not supposed to play, but in the middle of the first half, the beginning of a tight end, Nickel, was out of the game with an injury.

Booker went in and played, as his teammate said, "his ass off."

Booker's appearance in South Bend that day is featured in a grainy video on YouTube that records two key passport games. In the first case, he seems to tower above the Notre Dame defenders, who try to bring him down. He dodges gracefully before running to the sideline, where two Irish players have to knock him down.

"The first big game offensively for Stanford," says the announcer Cardinal Squad continued touchdown ride.

In the second game, Booker makes a fingertip jump over a defender.

"Nice catch from Cory Booker!" the announcer is crying.

"He had two unbelievable catches, he gave us a bit of life, and next you know that we are unbalancing the number one country," Nickel said. Stanford won the game 36-31.

The Notre Dame game remains a climax and a crucial moment for a young man who would find himself at a crossroads in just a few weeks.

"It was one of those nights when you come home at night and feel tired," Booker said. "I took a deep breath and remembered that I said, 'Okay, I did it.'"

Next week, Booker scored his first and only touchdown in a Stanford uniform against the University of Southern California. But at the end of the season, in early 1991, he had a meeting at Denny Green's office, which Booker says would "change my life."

Green had already suggested that Booker, despite his fifth year of his eligibility, would probably not be asked to play again. That's why Booker was excited to hear that Stanford had decided to keep his scholarship. But when he told his coach he was ready to play another season, Green interrupted him. "You do not understand," he had said. "We're keeping a scholarship here in Stanford, but we're not letting you play football."

  PALO ALTO, CA - 1989: Cory Booker # 81 and his teammates Stanford Cardinal jogging before warming up on the field to a football game during the 1989 season at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California. Other visible players include Scott Eschelman # 34, Alan Grant # 2, Kevin T. Scott # 3 and Gary Taylor # 15.

"Talk about a devastating moment," said Booker, who remembered to be dazed for hours or days. With no plans for a graduating school or a clear idea of ​​what would come next, one of its main identities – a football player – was taken away. At that time, Stanford professor Jody called Maxmin to encourage him to apply for a Rhodes scholarship. The next year he spent in Oxford and then in Yale Law.

"Life gives you these incredible gifts, sometimes disguised as failures, setbacks or defeats, those humiliating moments that ultimately become turning points for you to seize greater opportunities beyond what you envisioned," said Booker. "And this was another football gift for me to be able to play at a high level in Division I competitive football, sit with a man who would later … be a playoff coach, and have a moment "You think is a devastating end, and it turns out to be an extraordinary, unimaginable beginning."

Waiting for a "Rudy" moment

Booker is an eternal one Optimist speaking in sentences of a motivation saying. Speaker. Every challenge in his life turns into a lesson, an opportunity – to tell, a "gift".

But there is an undercurrent of impatience and even defiance in the way Booker speaks both professionally and politically about his expectations. "This gift of football just prepared me to face the dark, the doubters, the naysayers, and the critics, and realize that in life you can not allow anything outside of you to dictate your course," said he faces CNN.

But for now, Booker's course on the White House looks different, while many of his opponents are successful.

Elizabeth Warren has clearly defined herself as a left-wing populist hero who has never failed, "a blueprint for this." Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of a city (South Bend) with just over a third of the population of Newark, has a niche worked out as a surprise hit the democratic area code. And Kamala Harris faced front-runner Joe Biden in the first debate and emerged as a potential consensus candidate who could also take on Donald Trump in the general election.

All of them occupy lanes that Booker might claim. "I suspect that differentiating candidates is a problem for him, and with so many impressive candidates it's hard for him to stand out," said Paul Begala, Campaign Manager of Bill Clinton in 1992 and CNN employee.

For his part, the New Jersey senator seems to be waiting for a miraculous conclusion – his own "Rudy" moment. "Here's a lot of my religious education that was definitely mixed with football," Booker said. "I just have this extraordinary belief that this is all as it should be." And this could be one of those great comeback stories we've seen in politics before, as we've seen before in football. "

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