Being tested is old role for Booth Ravens cornerback survived many perils as part of childhood

August 09, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Ravens cornerback Issac Booth has heard similar threats before, only then they came in real life.

"Everyone keeps saying that I'm the new kid on the block, the one that is going to get picked on," said Booth, who is basically bidding for the only available starting job in the secondary.

"From where I come from, that's nothing new. When it was time to fight, it was hands up, let's go. Playing here is just another challenge in my life."

Booth, 6 feet 3 and 190 pounds, grew up in Bright- wood, a predominantly black community in Indianapolis. He is exceptionally proud of his old neighborhood, and for a few brief moments tries to enhance the image he has of it.

"I guess you could say middle-class," said Booth. "Well, maybe it was middle-class to lower-class."

Then reality sets in: "Oh, hell! Lower-class, man. Gangs and drugs. Slummy. Ghetto. You know what I'm talking about."

Booth, 25, can paint vivid pictures of one of his family's best friends being shot inside a telephone booth, or people being held at gunpoint.

Guns and knives were common and people weren't afraid to flaunt them. Booth was the youngest of four brothers, so every day was like standing on the street corner, or being the team's newest cornerback.

"You always had to prove yourself," said Booth. "Everybody fought. I had three older brothers, so I fought with them, too. If you were a boy, it was part of growing up. Fortunately, I've been law-free, no problems.

"I've had my share of challenges and I've made it this far. In this league, every week is a challenge. Every week, especially in my case, I've got to show people they are picking on the wrong person."

Last season Booth, the team's fifth-round draft pick in 1994, spent most of his playing time on special teams and as the fifth defensive back behind starting cornerbacks Antonio Langham and Don Griffin.

But when the Ravens waived Griffin several weeks before training, Booth was penciled in to replace him. He was expected to be challenged by DeRon Jenkins, the team's second-round pick out of Tennessee, for the starting job.

Booth seemed to have the position locked up until last Saturday night in the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

He was beaten twice for long gains, one a 27-yard reception to Mark Ingram in the first quarter, and another for 43 yards in the second.

Eagles veteran receiver Irving Fryar got a step on Booth on the second play and pulled an old trick by "dead-arming," not raising his arms until the last possible second for the pass. Booth was called for pass interference, which resulted in a 43-yard gain.

However, both times Booth was in fine position. He just never made the play. That can buy young players such as Booth free airplane tickets out of camp quickly.

Booth knows he can't afford such mistakes again, especially tomorrow (1 p.m.) when the Ravens play the New York Giants at Giants Stadium.

"I saw them looking up for the ball, I just reached out too late," said Booth of the two big Eagles plays. "After watching film, I knew I could have made a play on both balls."

There is little question about Booth's physical talents. He is tall, solidly-built and a former star high school sprinter.

His biggest asset, though, may be the huge arm span that allows him to jam receivers.

"He can become a legitimate problem for receivers to deal with," said Ravens wide receiver Michael Jackson. "We have to get him carry his aggression from practice onto the playing field."

Langham agreed.

"He knows everyone is going to consider him fresh meat," said Langham. "His message to them should be, 'If you come over here, you better be correct.' I've told him that he has to step up to face the challenge. I saw him last week putting his head down. I told him that even some of the best have bad days. He feels he had a bad day last Saturday.

"Ike knows the game of football; Ike can play. He has to build up the confidence in himself so that when he plays, he plays well, whether it's Jerry Rice or anybody else."

Booth says confidence is coming slowly as he learns the defense. He wants to be able to react without hesitating. He also wants to be able to have the starting position nailed down by Sept. 1, when the Ravens open the regular season against the Oakland Raiders.

Then, during the off-season, he can return to Brightwood, where he spends a lot of time as a counselor at the Rise Learning Center for handicapped youngsters.

"I always go back, sometimes just to kick it with old friends," said Booth. "It's nice to hear people say, 'Look at Ike, he made it. He's not out here selling drugs, doing this or that despite a lot of negative things he had to overcome.' I like that."

Ravens preseason

Tomorrow

Opponent: New York Giants

Time: 1 p.m.

Site: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

TV/Radio: Chs. 11, 4/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Schedule

Date Opponent Time TV

Aug. 17 Green Bay 7 54

Aug. 23 at Buffalo 7: 30 54

Pub Date: 8/09/96

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