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The literary world attracts a lot more bookworms than it does jocks. Which is why the notion that high-school athletic glory is a cursea precursor to a lifetime of unfulfillmentshows up uncontested in too many books, movies, and dramatic works. It has become an article of faith among the masses.
Damone Boone will eventually know the truth.
Boone was a schoolboy superstar. He will never be more popular with the rest of the world than he was with his mates during his days playing football for West Springfield High School. Never. That’s not a prediction of impending athletic irrelevance or a judgment of his skills, which are by all accounts as estimable as ever. It’s just reality.
In his own captive little universe of West Springfield, Va., Boone was a gridiron version of Michael Jordan. He had the greatest football career the school ever saw. He put up numbers no other Virginian ever put up.
Boone was so good the coach used to include in his game plan a specific yardage goal for his star running backtogether, Boone and his team usually met the goals. He gained a ridiculous 422 yards rushing in the penultimate game of his senior season, setting the bar impossibly high for the last game of his high-school career. Or so everybody thought. Including Boone.
“Coach told us he didn’t want to just win. He wanted me to get 500 yards,” Boone recalls. “I had my doubts when I heard him say that, because nobody gains 500 yards in one game. But, well, it gave us something to shoot for.”
They hit the bull’s eye: Boone picked up exactly a half-thousand yards that final Friday. Scored five touchdowns, too. Most football pundits were already aware of Boone before he ran wild, but everybody who mattered knew who he was afterward. He was named to every all-star team imaginable: all-district, all-region, all-state, all-met, all-American. He was probably named all-galaxy if anybody out there was watching.
Boone is now a freshman at the University of Maryland. He could have gotten a free ride from almost any school in the country, but he signed with Maryland for its proximity to Northern Virginia. The campuses of West Springfield and Maryland are separated by only about a 35-minute drive, but Boone’s storied high-school past is light years away from his college present. He’s not a superstar now. Not yet. In fact, he’s anything but. In Maryland’s altogether shocking 52-0 rout of Wake Forest during last weekend’s homecoming, a bench-clearer of a score if there ever was one, Boone dressed out, but didn’t get in the game at all.
He’s getting used to that by now: The school’s sports department says its records show that Boone took the field in the first game, against powerlesshouse Northern Illinois, for one play.
If he did, Boone doesn’t remember it.
“I haven’t gotten in a game yet,” he says.
Either way, this much isn’t in dispute: He hasn’t played since. A kid who was first-team All-World mere months ago is now barely fourth-team All-College Park.
Wonder of wonders, Maryland Coach Mark Duffner is an alum of Annandale High School, which just happens to be the team Boone gained 500 yards against as a schoolboy. Boone is sure the coach isn’t holding that great deed against him.
“He knows what I did against Annandale, and we laugh about it,” Boone says. “That’s not why I’m not playing here. Not at all.”
Instead, what’s keeping Boone on the sidelines this year is the simple truth that college and high-school ball are different games. In the college version, Boone has come to learn, the athletic skills that used to allow him to dominate are no longer enough to get by on.
“The talent level here is a lot different, obviously, and everything happens so much faster than I was used to. But I’m fast enough, and stronger than ever. The playing part isn’t really what’s hard,” he says. “It’s the playbook part. I’ve had to learn how to play football, where the game isn’t just getting the ball and running with it. That’s the way it always used to be for me, but here there’s a very complicated offense, where I have to work on blocking and pass protection. I’ll get it, but it just hasn’t fallen into place here yet.”
Despite his nonplaying status, Boone comes off as amazingly upbeat when discussing the Maryland football program and his role in it. Coach Duffner and his staff have done an incredible job of keeping this former gridiron god interested in the game and motivated to succeed during what has been a very long and disappointing season for Boone and the Terrapins. (The win over Wake Forest ended a four-game losing streak.) They tell him he’ll be red-shirted this year, meaning Boone will still have four years of college athletic eligibility remaining, and that he’s definitely still in their future plans.
But while he’s looking forward to a day when he contributes more than moral and vocal support to the team, Boone also spends time thinking about his past. Talking about it, too. He has discovered that most of his Maryland teammates like going over their own glorious high-school memoriesyou don’t get into a major college program without ’emas much as he does.
“Everybody wants to go back to high school. It’s not just me. It’s not just freshmen, either. It’s everybody! Everybody who plays football wants just one more shot, to play just one more high-school game. Everybody thinks they could do better if they got one more shot.”
Even him? Even better than a 500-yard game?
“Yeah, even me,” he laughs. “I guess I don’t want to do better than [500 yards]. I know that can’t happen. But I didn’t think it could happen the first time, either.”
Boone isn’t on Maryland’s travel squad, so when the team is playing on the road, he leaves the campus and spends his free weekends back home in Virginia. He usually stops by his old school and visits with his former coach. He also seeks out ex-teammates among this year’s senior class at West Springfield. They always have a lot to talk about, he says.
“They want me to tell them about college,” Boone says. “So I do.”
And what does he want in return?
“I ask them to tell me about high school.”