SAN DIEGO — A San Diego State tailback carried 35 times, gained 203 yards and scored 3 touchdowns Saturday in a 52-42 victory over Long Beach. And Tommy Booker could only watch from the stands.
All the work and all the glory went to Paul Hewitt. That wasn't the way Coach Denny Stolz planned it.
"The idea wasn't for Hewitt to gain 200 yards," Stolz said of his preseason expectations. "The idea was for Hewitt to get 100 yards and Booker to get 100 yards."
Booker, a Parade Magazine All-American last season at Vista High School, was one of the most highly recruited athletes in SDSU history. Stolz expected him to have an immediate impact. Instead, Booker is nursing the left ankle he severely sprained in the first half of the 34-33 loss to Texas El Paso Oct. 10. He has not played in two weeks and won't play Saturday against Hawaii in a Western Athletic Conference game in Honolulu.
"At the time I was injured, I didn't think it was going to take this long to get better," Booker said. "I thought I'd be up and running real quickly. It really didn't occur to me that I'd be out this long."
Booker said he hopes to return to action Nov. 7 at Brigham Young. He has been back on the field jogging this week for the first time since his injury.
The injury has especially frustrated Booker because it came just when he was beginning to become more accustomed to the Aztecs' offensive system. Despite missing the past two games, he still is the team's second-leading rusher with 57 carries for 212 yards and 1 touchdown.
"Right when you start feeling comfortable, you get a setback," Booker said. "I was looking forward to finishing the season strong. Then this injury came about."
Stolz had been working to bring Booker into the system slowly. Booker's playing time had increased before the injury. He had been alternating quarters with Hewitt, a junior transfer from Citrus College in Glendora. Hewitt, who leads the team with 647 yards in 138 carries, would start the first and second halves. Booker would relieve him in the second and fourth quarters.
"This way Tommy could get a chance to look at the defenses, see what types of blitzes they were using," said Wayne Moses, running backs coach. "He would be prepared when he got in the game.
"There were a lot of expectations on Tommy, but we (the coaches) didn't want to ask too much of him too early. This is his first year. He is going to be the player of the future. We wanted him to use this year to get comfortable so when he comes back next year everything would be easier for him.
"It's been a little disappointing because we haven't been able to do that. We've only seen glimpses of what Tommy can do."
Some of those glimpses have been spectacular--such as the 65-yard touchdown run in the opener against UCLA, which was nullified because of a holding penalty. But more often, Booker has struggled to adjust to the complexities of college football and college life.
He has worked to improve as a receiver, an important skill for any running back in Stolz's offense. The two leading receivers on the team are running back Ron Slack (32 catches for 284 yards) and Hewitt (29 catches for 264 yards and 4 touchdowns). Booker, however, has only one catch for five yards.
He made his only start against Wyoming, a week before his injury. But it turned into a disappointment as the Aztecs were beaten, 52-10, and Booker gained only 8 yards in 10 carries.
It was about that time that Booker found himself falling behind in his schoolwork. In that respect, the injury helped. He did not attend a practice for two weeks while receiving medical treatment and used some of his extra time to catch up in the classroom.
"I didn't want to get behind in two things," Booker said.
The inactivity has difficult for Booker to accept. He is eager to return to the lineup and frustrated by his slow recovery.
"It's difficult knowing you aren't going to play this week and still have to go get treatment (from the trainers) three times a day," he said. "It puts a damper on things.
"If I came back for the BYU game, I'll have three games to finish off the season strong. That way I'll be looking to next season with something positive behind me. But if I go out this year not too healthy, that would not be good. That would be one more negative aspect going into next year."
Moses said he has worked to keep Booker in good spirits and tried to keep him from dwelling on the missed opportunity. He cautions against expecting too much, too soon.
"We never asked him to be a savior, to go out there and get 200 yards in his first game," Moses said. "We want to bring him along at the right pace. This is his career we're talking about, not one season."
Booker, despite his disappointment over the slow start, has worked to adopt the same philosophy.
"This is just one year; I've got three more to go," he said. "This will be the fluke year. The rest of them I'm going to try my hardest to make sure they work out the way they're supposed to be."
Aztec Notes Scouts from the Holiday Bowl will attend six games Saturday: Indiana at Iowa, Michigan State at Ohio State, Michigan at Northwestern, UCLA at Arizona State, Louisiana Tech at Texas A&M and West Virginia at Penn State.