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Sports Archives The Altamont Enterprise, July 3, 2008
Strong friends build unbreakable bonds
By Tim Matteson
GUILDERLAND Best friends.
Those are the only words needed to describe Andrew Smith and Paul Booker.
The Dutchmen dynamic duo met as kids at a vacation Bible school and forged a bond that leads them from their graduation from Guilderland High School to the University at Albany.
“You never see one of us without the other,” Smith said in a recent interview. “We kind of stand out because we are big and black. We’re known for football and basketball, but the faculty members I talk to say they will remember us because we’re comical.”
“We’re legends,” Booker added with a laugh.
Their play on the football field has become legendary as Booker and Smith helped Guilderland to two of its most successful seasons in history.
In their junior year, they helped the Dutchmen acheive a winning record for the first time since 1995 and earn a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Last fall, Booker and Smith were the key reason the Dutchmen lost just one game during the regular season and made it to the Class AA Section II Super Bowl for the first time ever.
“I feel that we made the most of being in this school,” Smith said. “What we’ve done will be talked about years from now, until someone else does it.”
Smith took over the quarterback spot, but it was his legs that were feared by opponents. Booker’s size and strength from the running back position were also a concern for opposing teams.
Smith rushed for 940 yards and Booker picked up 927 yards on the ground during the season.
Over a decade ago, while he was at a vacation Bible school at his church in Albany, Smith ran into a kid named Booker and a friendship began.
“We were 5 or 6,” Smith said. “We were really young. I was wearing glasses and he had a ’fro.”
Booker went to Pine Bush Elementary School and Smith went to Lynnwood Elementary School in Guilderland. It was when they both attended Farnsworth Middle School that their friendship flourished.
“We started seeing each other more and we started hanging out together a lot more,” Booker said.
Booker was more interested in basketball when he was younger and Smith played Pop Warner football, though sometimes the seasons overlapped.
“We played football and basketball together and we got into some trouble together,” Smith said. “But we always hit it off. Our parents are friends.”
Though they are minority students in a largely white town, Booker and Smith have enjoyed their suburban upbringing.
“It has it advantages and disadvantages,” Smith said. “The amount of positives is great. The past two years, our junior and senior years, we’ve been noticed in different places. I feel welcomed. This is great; I wouldn’t want to be in any other place.”
“There are more people around,” Booker added. “They are more supportive and that is an advantage. They go out of their way to support us.”
“Most American thing”
Booker and Smith found a common bond in football, which brought both of them success, personally and on the team.
“The sectional championship didn’t end the way we wanted to,” Smith said. “I always wanted a Section II championship. It could have been better.”
Guilderland led for most of the Class AA title game against LaSalle. The Cadets overcame a 17-0 deficit to win the game with 28 fourth-quarter points.
“Our whole athletic career is something we can pride ourselves on,” Booker said.
But it almost didn’t happen.
Smith decided he did not want to play football before his senior year; he planned to concentrate on basketball.
“Coach told me that I could play in college,” Smith said of football. “I was always into basketball.”
“The letters started flowing,” Booker added.
Smith realized what he could accomplish on the football field.
“I did a lot of camps with him,” Smith said of Booker. “It was a possibility I could play college football. It is one of the most American things ever. I wanted to play at a high level. And I was able to pick a school that was local.”
Booker feels the same way.
“It’s a dream,” he said. “I didn’t really like football until the eighth grade. I was a basketball guy. My dad played so I was always led toward basketball. But football came along and it kept me straight. Without school, I wouldn’t have football. It made me work harder to get to the next level.”
From Dutch to Danes
Booker and Smith have been attending workouts four days a week on the UAlbany campus to prepare for the fall, even though both probably won’t be playing next year. They might be red-shirted and sit out games next year and retain all four year of eligibility. This will give Booker and Smith time to adjust to the college game and college life.
Smith will major in business and finance and Booker will study criminal justice and sociology.
But that doesn’t take anything away from the decision they made.
“We had a lot of options,” Smith said. “It came down to New Hampshire and UAlbany. It was a package deal kind of thing…He (Booker) took a piece of paper and on the front and back he wrote down the pros and cons of UNH and Albany. It was totally in favor of UAlbany.”
Smith and Booker praised their high school coach, Dan Penna, and their teammates for helping them enjoy their time at Guilderland and aiding in their success.
Without the help of classmates Peter Stanish, Paul Malamood, Nick Ranalli, and others the Dutch would not have had the success they did this season.
“Coach Penna basically let us play,” Smith said. “He put in a new offense for just me and Booker. He used us the way we should be used. Coach put a lot of attention to detail.”
Leaving a mark
Smith and Booker know that they have reaped the benefits of their talent, they also know that there are a lot of people who helped them get to this point in their lives.
“So many people will be coming to UAlbany games next year,” Smith said. “They’ll definitely be coming because of us. The attendance from Guilderland will be up. They’ll be coming to see us, and that feels great. And we’ll be coming back home and stand on the sidelines and I’ll help the young quarterbacks.”
Having left their mark at Guilderland High School, Smith and Booker now want to leave their mark on the UAlbany program.
“I’ll do what I can to get on the field,” said Booker, who will probably sit out of game his first year. “It’ll be hard to wait that long. The games, there is nothing like it.”
“We want to win the conference title and get that ring,” Smith said. “We want to be successful and make the [Division] 1AA playoffs. We want to leave a mark.”