Stanford needs Booker’s off-field leadership to translate into on-field success – San Francisco Chronicle

LOS ANGELES — Without hesitating or qualifying his thought in any way at Tuesday’s Pac-12 media day, Stanford head football coach David Shaw said Thomas Booker is going to be one of the best defensive linemen in America.

The senior defensive end may already demand that kind of praise off the field.

A double major in economics and communication, Booker created a four-minute video for the Pac-12 Network last year, breaking down the differences between overt and covert racism. The video has been viewed nearly 5,000 times on YouTube.

“As athletes, so much of the time, we’re told to stay away from the controversial topics and play it safe,” said Booker, who’s had 99 tackles, including 8.5 sacks since arriving from Ellicott City, Md. “Sometimes that can minimize who you are as a person. If you have strong viewpoints about things that matter to you, you should feel completely justified in sharing those things publicly and standing on those things. For me to be able to speak out on that truth for me and a lot of other Black people was important. That goes to every single facet of your life.

“You should feel comfortable sharing your entire complete self without compromise.”

Largely because of Booker, conversations about anything from real world issues and to advanced mathematics have generally replaced the banter heard in typical football locker rooms.

Sure, not everyone wants to dissect the analysis of real estate markets and investment potentials that Booker has been working on during a summer internship with private equity firm RMWC, but he’ll find a someone willing to converse on just about anything else.

“We dance. We laugh. We have fun. But a lot of the conversations we have in our locker room are different than a normal football locker room,” Stanford wide receiver Michael Wilson said. “We’re talking about politics, topical stuff, social issues, internships, computer science classes, engineering degrees, vector calculus and math equations that can give you a headache.”

Booker has seen those conversations translate on the field, as well.

During Stanford’s season-closing 4-0 run last year, including more than three weeks spent shuttling all over the West Coast because of Santa Clara County’s coronavirus protocols, Booker was upset that a teammate was making an inside move and not maintaining the edge.

Booker had no problem addressing the situation right on the spot, because you’re “on the same level and same wavelength. When you’re on the field and have a deeper issue, I can say that on the sideline and get into some of those deeper conceptual things during a game. I have no worries that he knows exactly what I’m talking about and will respond in exactly the right way.”

Stanford’s defense has finished among the conference’s bottom half in yards allowed each of the past three seasons, including being ninth in 2020 after yielding 438.7 yards per game.

But Shaw believes those numbers are about to trend in a different direction.

“I think we are deeper and faster than most people think that we are,” Shaw said. “I think we did underperform at times last year, in particular against the run. A lot of it was just purely assignment football. We had some young guys out there, inexperienced guys out there. … The personnel we have right now, we’ll make sure those guys are put in a good position going forward.”

They’ve already identified the right guy to lead them.

Rusty Simmons is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @Rusty_SFChron