VANCOUVER — UBC reputation as one of the world’s great universities is certainly no secret to academia’s global community.
On Friday, however, that same reputation not only earned the the school a top-flight entrant into its kinesiology program, but a blue-chip high school senior from Texas with the ability to be a difference maker both barking out the signals at Thunderbird Stadium and rocking the rims at War Memorial Gymnasium.
Garrett Rooker, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound two-sport sensation from Clear Springs High in League City, just outside of Houston, confirmed Friday that he would be coming north to the Point Grey campus for the 2020-21 season with the intent of playing both football and basketball for the blue and gold.
Rooker, who just turned 18 last month, was a three-year starter at quarterback who passed for 5,540 yards and a school-record 65 touchdowns for the Chargers who play at the top tier — 6A — of Texas high school football.
As a wing on the Clear Springs basketball team, Rooker averaged 12.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game, showcasing not only his shooting range and his dribble-drive game, but a breathtaking, spring-loaded ability to dunk.
And while the question might be cliched, Rooker refuses to give a stock answer when asked if he loves one sport more than the other.
“For me it’s like two personalities,” he begins. “In football, you have to be calm and cool, especially under the lights here in Texas, to deal with the pressure. Then someone told me to stop acting like a quarterback on the basketball court, to show a little feistiness and attack the hoop. In the end, I honestly can’t choose. I am very passionate about both sports.”
Yet if you’re wondering how the Thunderbirds even came to be on his recruiting radar, the ‘Birds biggest assist came via the academic DNA which runs in his family tree and ultimately made him choose UBC over a number of other offers, including the NCAA Div. 1 level.
“They would never have found out about me, if it wasn’t for one of my dad’s grad students,” Rooker laughed Friday over the phone, eluding to the fact that his father, a professor at Texas A&M-Galveston, has sent a number of grad students to UBC.
“One of them reached out to coach Hanson and sent him my highlights,” Rooker continued of UBC’s head men’s basketball coach Kevin Hanson.
“I watched the highlights, I found out that he could also play football, so I texted coach Nill,” said Hanson of his communication with Thunderbirds’ head football coach Blake Nill.
From there, a multi-pronged recruiting push began, and although the COVID-19 pandemic prevented him from even making a visit North to Vancouver, Rooker was in top spirits when asked about his choice.
“My family has always been academics first,” Rooker began. “I’m at the top of my class in high school, I’m very competitive with my grades and it’s something I am very passionate about.”
Excited about this great opportunity! Go thunderbirds! ⚡️🦅 https://t.co/brXXJxLMMZ— Garrett Rooker (@garrettrooker12) May 9, 2020
Initially, Rooker didn’t know anything about UBC, yet his dad knew it was one of the top universities in the world.
“It seemed a crazy idea to go out there, but after doing some research I found out it has a high level of sports, and it’s a great academic university,” added Rooker of UBC, who added he was contemplating medical school as his end goal.
Before that, he’s going to get plenty of opportunity to try and establish himself on the football field as the Thunderbirds attempt to find a fulltime starter in the wake of Michael O’Connor’s departure following the 2018 season for a career in the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts.
UBC football coach Nill was clearly excited about the presence Rooker could potentially bring to the huddle as he joins a group of returning pivots including Gabe Olivares, Tommy Yanchuk and Ryan Baker.
“The thing about Garrett is he is a combination of so many things,” Nill began. “It’s his athletic potential, his cognitive ability and he is a very high-achieving academic student.”
Senior Season Highlights – https://t.co/Fl90Hqv8ec— Garrett Rooker (@garrettrooker12) November 22, 2019
You see all of that mesh perfectly in the first clip on Rooker’s Hudl highlight tape.
Taking the snap under centre, he is chased out of the pocket, but keeps his cool, motioning a receiver to change his route, then putting perfect touch on a 45-yard pass which he drops in the bucket for a 50-yard touchdown pass.
Later in the highlight package, he looks like Oregon’s Justin Herbert, calmly rocketing a 50-yard strike to a receiver in stride at the goal line.
“In a lot of ways, he is like Michael O’Connor,” Nill said of the Penn State transfer who led the ‘Birds on a magical run to the 2015 Vanier Cup national title in both his and the head coach’s first seasons at UBC.
“Mike was built like a tight end, and he was 225 pounds when he arrived,” Nill continued. “(Rooker) is 205 but he is two years younger than Mike was when he came in, so you won’t be able to judge the physicality until then. In a lot of ways they are the same kind of player, but (Rooker) might be a bit more mobile.”
Yet for as physically-gifted as O’Connor was, his greatest strength was his presence. UBC football is no doubt hoping that Rooker is cut from a similar cloth.
Certainly, from the standpoint of facing some of the best high school competition in the U.S., Rooker comes to the Canada West with some pressurized tests already under his belt.
The 6A level is for the largest schools in Texas, and is further divided by Tier 1 and Tier 2 levels of which Clear Springs played at the very top Tier 1 level.
MaxPreps, the U.S. high school rating giant, ranked the Houston-area loop in which Rooker played as the toughest high school bracket in the country.
Of course that plethora of opposition big-school athletes extended to the hardcourt as well, and will serve Rooker well as he joins the UBC basketball team.
“To get someone who played at a 6A school is a big coup,” said Hanson of Rooker, who may wind up red-shirting his first basketball season. “He has proven he can attack the rim and dunk on people, he has an explosiveness, and his ability to shoot the ball really spreads the floor.”
Even Nill raved about Rooker’s basketball film, especially his dunking ability.
“He’s springy as heck,” Nill gushed.
There is, of course, the matter of getting a chance to meet face-to-face, something that all concerned will happen before the start of the football season.
“He is the product of this unique time, in that both coach Nill and I have not had the chance to see him live or on campus,” said Hanson of the restrictions in place due to the pandemic. “So this is all based on video. He is a recruit of the times.”
That said, Hanson and Nill have each been around long enough to know a blue-chip talent when they see it.
“I think it’s a great story how this all happened… how we found out about him through a colleague of his dad’s,” added Hanson. “It’s like a movie.”
And if Garrett Rooker – the quarterback, guard-forward, and spiring doctor – is the author of that script, it seems assured that he will make it as challenging for himself as he can.
“I want to be able to continue to play both sports,” he added. “I don’t want to be mediocre at anything. It’s something I want to do. I love playing both sports.
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