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Patience is a virtue, especially for running backs. Waiting for the right window to open up is as important as being able to outrun defenders or shake off a tackle.

Devontae Booker's patience has been tried more than most.

He waited years to make it to a Division I program. He decided to hold off on going pro last year. Today — only a few days before an NFL team changes his life forever — he's waiting for his knee to fully heal, which also will require a little patience from his future employer.

But if all that stands between Booker and the NFL is time, he can handle that.

"It's been a long time coming," said Ronnie Booker, Devontae's father. "He took the long route. But he's worked very hard to get here."

Booker, 23, is still working hard just days out from the NFL draft, which begins Thursday evening. He's ranked by many scouting services as a top-75 player in the field, as well as a top-five running back. His college production — 2,773 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns in only 23 games — merits his high stature in his class.

But his knee, oh his knee.

Since tearing his meniscus last November, Booker has undergone two surgeries: one to repair his meniscus, and then another in February to remove it. The day of the second surgery, he was able to walk around unassisted afterward.

It's been tough getting used to the idea that he has to take his time with his body. At his April 12 personal Pro Day in Sacramento, his agency advised him not to run the 40-yard dash — one of NFL scouts' most sought-after measurables.

"I only started running two weeks before that," he said. "I was a little afraid of it at first, planting and cutting on it, because I've never had an injury like that. But I'm just trying to get it right."

Any team considering choosing Booker and waiting for him to heal might consider Utah's example. The Utes waited an extra year for Booker's academics to clear, and they ended up with an All-Pac-12 running back.

Coach Kyle Whittingham describes Booker's skill set as "voluminous." He pounded the rock as often as Utah needed, getting 31 or more carries in half of his 10 games last year. But he also had multiple receptions in nine of 10 games.

The coaching staff wasn't fully satisfied with Booker's conditioning early on. According to Whittingham, it took a while for him to play up to his tape from American River College.

"He had to learn our offense and the way we do things," he said. "But once the light came on, wow."

Booker had a chance to enter the NFL draft early a year ago, when he was just seven yards shy of setting Utah's single-season rushing record. He deferred on his pro career in favor of getting his degree.

Given his season-ending injury, it would be understandable if he felt some regret, right?

"Don't regret none of that at all," he said. "Me getting that degree said a lot about my character. It wasn't about the money. It just shows what type of person I am."

Soon Booker will be getting money, however. Several projections place him as a second day (second or third round) prospect. He went on visits to the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots. Ronnie Booker noted that the Oakland Raiders worked the longest with his son at his Pro Day.

One thing Booker hopes won't change with time: himself. He'll buy some things with his first contract: a modestly priced home in Sacramento, a used car, a small apartment near his NFL team. Nothing too fancy.

"He knows there's an ending to football one day," Ronnie Booker said. "He said, 'Dad, I don't want a million-dollar house. I don't want a big old brand new car. I have my mind more set on giving back than spending money.'"

There is a pet project in the works that Booker hopes, in time, he can complete. He wants to build a Boys & Girls Club in his Sacramento neighborhood near his parents' house — a place for kids to do homework, have access to computers and participate in sports. It may be a few years away until he can afford to funnel his earnings into it, but he's willing to wait.

For now, he believes his example can lead younger people in his hometown, one of the reasons he held his Pro Day at Grant High School, where he graduated.

"You can do good and get out of the neighborhood," he said. "There's some good in sports to where you can get out and be successful in life. Come through and work hard, and some things will happen."

Good things come to those who wait.

Twitter: @kylegoon —

Bookmode's draft stock

Former Utah running back Devontae Booker is expected to be the first Ute selected during this week's NFL draft. A look at projections for the two-time all-Pac-12 back:

ESPN • No. 115 overall (Mel Kiper); No. 6 RB • No. 53 overall (Gil Brandt); No. 3 RB (Mike Mayock)

CBS • No. 62 overall; No. 3 RB

Fox • No. 90 projected pick; No. 6 RB picked —

NFL draft

At the Auditorium Theater, Chicago:

Round 1 • Thursday, 6 p.m. MDT, ESPN and the NFL Network

Rounds 2-3 • Friday, 5 p.m. MDT, ESPN and the NFL Network. Note: TV coverage moves to ESPN2 at 6 p.m.

Rounds 4-7 • Saturday, 10 a.m. MDT, ESPN and the NFL Network