Backup offensive lineman impresses in starting role
Ball State offensive lineman Kadin Booker isn't an ordinary backup.
When senior Steve Bell missed time in the offseason with an injury, Booker took first, second and even third team reps. He's had the same training as a starter, and with Bell sidelined by a foot injury, Booker has started the last two games for the Cardinals — and hasn't skipped a beat.
"Game 1 was just OK," said offensive line coach Kyle DeVan. "I thought Game 2, golly, he got better. He got better from the first quarter of Game 1 to the fourth quarter of Game 1, and did the same thing in the second game against Buffalo. ... Those little things he cleaned up, and I thought he did a great job stepping in and performing."
Kadin Booker — Biography
Jersey number — 58
Year — Redshirt sophomore
Position — Offensive line
Height — 6-foot-6
Weight — 286 lbs.
Previous school — Monroe College
Booker entered the game late in an Oct. 1 loss against Northern Illinois, only his second career appearance in a Ball State uniform after transferring from Monroe College in New York.
When Bell was ruled out the following week at Central Michigan, it was Booker's job to again step in at right tackle.
The redshirt sophomore admitted he was a little anxious at first, but as the game went on he settled into the role he had been preparing for.
"When you first go out there you're nervous to see all the people in the crowd," Booker said. "But then after that first hit, you're ready to go."
Booker's progression took another big leap last weekend at Buffalo. The offensive line paved the way as sophomore running back James Gilbert rushed for 264 yards, the second-highest single-game rushing total in school history.
Several of Gilbert's big runs in the second half went to the right side where Booker blocks, including an 80-yard touchdown that put Ball State up 21-14 with 3:28 left in the third quarter.
"I've seen guys in backup roles go in there and the offense stinks, and subconsciously, you think it's your fault," DeVan said. "Well, when we were able to go in there and have a ton of success, and run the ball at Buffalo like that, I know it proves to him he can play at this level. And he should never think that he can't."
Booker has a physical gift that most linemen aren't blessed with: long arms.
He can use that length to create separation in pass protection and is working on being more aggressive in run-blocking schemes.
The offensive line has been solid since he entered the lineup, but there have been slip-ups, like when a Buffalo defensive lineman broke through to force a fumble by quarterback Riley Neal. Still, Booker said the rest of the starters have welcomed him and helped a lot in his development.
"Coach DeVan always preaches, 'You practice how you play,'" Booker said. "For the older guys, they've really showed us how to practice right and how it translates to the game."
At practice Oct. 18, Booker was still taking first-team reps at right tackle. Bell was in full pads, without the walking boot he's been sporting the past couple weeks, but head coach Mike Neu seems comfortable with Booker if Bell is forced to miss more time.
"I think he's done a nice job," Neu said. "He's one of those guys that two weeks ago, he had no playing time. ... I think that's good for him to be able to get those repetitions. Yes, we miss Steve Bell, we'd like to have him on the field, but I think [Booker] has done a great job and is getting better and better each week.
Booker knows his time as a starter might not last much longer, but that won't change the way he has approached the game this season.
"I'm just trying to find something every day to get better at," Booker said. "I know [Bell is] just about back healthy now, so we'll see what happens this week. But I'm still preparing like I'm the starter."