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Booker ready to go on the offensive

Scott Booker is more used to stopping tight ends than getting them going. The former collegiate safety spent six years coaching defensive backfields at Western Kentucky and his alma mater, Kent State. Still the 31-year-old that has convinced a long line of coaches that he is a rising star says he should have no problem transitioning to his new job as the Irish tight ends coach.

Scott Booker will coach tight ends and special teams in his third year at Notre Dame.

Booker is working with a few advantages that should help make the shift a little easier, first among them is the return of junior All-American Tyler Eifert. Eifert’s experience will provide a good example and ample time for Booker to work with the rest of his four-man position group. The coach has also spent the last two seasons completing what amounts to an intense academic study on Notre Dame’s spread offense while breaking down film and analyzing opponents as an intern.

“As a defensive backs coach you have to evaluate wide receivers and what they’re trying to do, so it was a seamless transition to kind of look at an offense that way,” Booker said. “[Irish head coach Brian Kelly] was a defensive coach when he first started, and obviously now he’s more of an offensive guy. Same with Chuck Martin, he’s been on both sides of the ball. So, I believe anytime you’re able to coach on both sides of the ball and get experience on both sides of the ball you’re just a better coach and a better teacher for it.”

Despite Kelly’s shared roots on defense, he coached linebackers and defensive backs before taking over as a head coach at Grand Valley State in 1991, that is not why he decided to promote Booker to a full-time assistant in early January. Kelly said he was impressed with the way Booker connected to current Irish players and his first-guy-in-last-guy-out work ethic.

“We probably could have had a long line of suitors for a position on Notre Dame’s staff,” Kelly said when introducing Booker. “And we went with a guy with MAC experience. When you’ve been in it as long as I have, you know when you have the right fit. Part of it is chemistry, personality, knowledge of Notre Dame, love of Notre Dame.”

After only two years in South Bend, Booker has the last part down pat. He referred to Notre Dame as “the best university in the world” multiple times during his first official interview at the school Friday morning. Booker showed reporters why Kelly expects him to be a force on the recruiting trail by heralding the school’s philosophy on football, emphasizing the importance of personal relationships and spitting out graduation rates as if he was in the family room of a high school football star.

Booker has already spent a month on the recruiting trail, hitting the road one day after he was hired on Jan. 2. He made stops in Georgia and Virginia, and will be visiting parts of Florida and the D.C. metro area as part of his new recruiting beat.

Kelly said Booker was a favorite among Notre Dame’s current players despite the fact that he couldn’t be with the team on game days or on the practice field because of his intern title. Booker said he’s relieved to be back on the field doing what he likes best.

“I enjoy being around the players, I enjoy teaching, I enjoy leading. It was definitely a transition to go from that position to being off the field,” he said.

Booker’s most difficult task in the next year will be orchestrating what the Irish hope will be a renaissance of their special teams unit. Notre Dame had success on the kickoff return and at times in the kicking game. But the only real consistency they found on special teams was in the punt return game, which —considering the team finished the regular season dead last among Football Bowl Subdivision schools — was not a good thing.

Like last fall, all 10 Irish coaches will have a hand in coaching special teams, but Booker will take over for Mike Elston in coordinating those efforts.

Booker was a standout special teams player all four year at Kent State. With such a small position group under his care, Booker can dedicate more time to special teams than most. It could be an ideal role for a young coach with lots of ambition to begin to build a reputation for himself.

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