This story originally appeared in the Hail Varsity 2020 Nebraska Football Yearbook. Never miss a Yearbook, or any issue of the magazine, with a subscription to Hail Varsity.
Part One: Passing It On
The details are a little hazy now. Time has that effect. What is clear is that Dicaprio Bootle liked a backpack—Chris Jones’ backpack, specifically—so that’s where our story begins.
It was 2016. Nebraska was preparing to play in the Music City Bowl in Nashville. Jones, a junior cornerback, needed a new backpack. His selection? A sleek brown “Sharks in Paris” backpack by the brand Sprayground. The bag sported a brown checkered pattern with a large mouth of a shark running along the bottom half. The shark-mouth design is a familiar one, too, with the red mouth and white teeth similar to those that adorned World War II fighter planes.
“Everybody was talking about it because everybody thought it was a dope backpack,” Jones said. “Everybody kept asking me where I got it. All this and all that. ‘D-Cap,’ in particular, liked it a lot. After my senior season, I still had the backpack, and as I was getting ready to leave, I asked him, ‘You want this backpack? I’ll leave it here for you.’”
Bootle—who was carrying his team- issued Adidas backpack for everything at the time—gladly accepted. Jones was the guy with the “swaggy backpack,” and it meant something that he wanted to leave it for Bootle.
When Bootle arrived at Nebraska in 2016, he had an instant connection with Jones. The two bonded over their backgrounds and shared dreams. They’re both from Florida, they both felt they had been under-recruited in high school, and they both wanted to get to the NFL. When Bootle’s sophomore year rolled around— Jones’ senior year—and he was able to move off campus, it was a no-brainer. The two would move together.
Many college students can’t wait to live off campus. Not Jones. He had spent three years avoiding it. “No, I’ll just stay on campus,” he’d say when teammates offered a spot in an off-campus apartment or house. Jones worried he wouldn’t be able to hold himself accountable away from campus, and he hadn’t met anyone he thought would help keep him on track.
“We were both in the same place and we both wanted the same dream,” Jones said. “So we just ended up moving off campus together, and the bond and relationship got stronger. He really is my little brother.”
Bootle, as the little brother, would drag Jones out of bed on the days he didn’t want to get up and work. Jones, as the older brother, would return the favor on the other days. When Jones was injured the summer before his senior season, Bootle was the shoulder to lean on whenever needed. On days when Bootle was feeling down, Jones was the first at his door to check in.
“They were really good together,” Bootle’s father, Dwight, said. “They were really, really good together.”
And so that year together was, too. They still talk about the memories made that year, reminiscing in a way that quickly takes you back. To all the workouts, to the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, to the time spent at church.
Jones earned his undergraduate degree in December 2017, just three-and-a-half years after he started at Nebraska. He went on to sign an undrafted-free-agent deal with the Detroit Lions in April 2018, but ultimately found a home with the Arizona Cardinals that fall. As he packed up and prepared to move from Lincoln, leaving Dicaprio behind to continue his path toward the same dream, there was just one more thing he needed to do: pass on the backpack that Dicaprio loved so much.
“Basically, he just told me that it was my time to take the reins and really make this thing happen here,” Dicaprio said. “It was like a parting gift and also a passing of the torch.”
Part Two: Make It Count
Rutgers wouldn’t stop calling.
The Rutgers coaches planned to be at a Miami satellite camp in June 2015. They wanted Dicaprio to be there too. “Can you come to this camp?” they’d ask each time he answered. Dicaprio didn’t want to go but he felt like he had to. He finally said yes.
“Dad, this guy keeps calling me up to come to this camp,” Dwight remembers his son saying. “Maybe I just go, because I keep turning them down.”
Dwight had to work the next day, so he thought maybe Dicaprio could get himself to the camp. It was only seven miles from their home. Except Dicaprio would have to take one of the major expressways, which is known for heavy traffic. Dicaprio—who was still on a learner’s permit at the time—had only driven backroads around his neighborhood. “Oh, my goodness, I’ve got to go, I’ve got to go,” Dwight told his wife Caliope the morning of. He took the day off from work, packed Dicaprio into the car and made the trip—his oldest son, Devereaux, also made the trip—to the satellite camp seven miles away from home.
Dwight noticed right away that Brian Stewart was taking interest in Dicaprio. Stewart— Nebraska’s defensive backs coach at the time who was there with then-defensive coordinator Mark Banker—started asking Dicaprio to demonstrate drills for the camp. He’d call on him to show how something was done and Dicaprio would do it with no questions asked. Things were going well, until it all just stopped.
“Why did you stop?” Dwight asked his son. “Why did you stop working?”
“I have to run the 40-yard dash now,” Dicaprio responded.
“OK, well, if that’s all you’ve got to do now, that’s fine,” Dwight said.
It was fine. Dicaprio was fast. He always had been. You can credit that to talent, of course, but you can also credit it to all the running he did with his dad growing up. Dicaprio hadn’t taken to football when he was a kid. He played only a couple of days of Pop Warner football in third grade before hanging up his cleats. It wasn’t what he wanted at the time.
By eighth grade, Dicaprio told Dwight he wanted to give it another shot and play high school football. That’s when Dwight decided if Dicaprio was going to play football, he needed to also run track. So that’s what he did. It wasn’t easy.
“He got a rude awakening,” Dwight said. “I ran him to tears.”
But the breakthrough came, and the work ethic followed. Dicaprio quickly became known around Miami-Dade County for his speed and his attitude on the football field.
But his size kept the major offers from rolling in. Programs were focused on his height—Dicaprio is listed at 5-foot-10—and he only held offers from a handful of FCS programs. That day at the satellite camp in Miami, he had the chance to change everything. He was fast, but it all depended on how he started.
Dicaprio’s high school coach leveled with him. “You’ve got to stop playing with this 40,” he told him. “You’ve got to get into this.” There were some arguments—Dwight was too far away to recall exactly what was said—but there was something about a shirt and whether or not Dicaprio needed to wear one and then exactly how fast he could run. His first time out, he clocked a 4.41.
“Hey, you realize you just ran the fastest 40 out here?” the coach timing him asked.
“I can do better,” Dicaprio thought.
Except he didn’t keep that thought to himself.
“I’m going to run a 4.3 right now,” he said to those listening.
The coach looked at him. Dicaprio doubled down.
“I’m about to run a 4.3,” he repeated.
Maybe it was the disagreement over whether or not Dicaprio should be wearing a shirt. Maybe it was the overconfidence from a kid who didn’t have the big-time offers yet. Maybe it was just one of those days. Whatever it was, the coach looked Dicaprio up and down before turning to every other coach in attendance.
“He said he’s going to run a 4.3,” the coach yelled out. “If he runs anything less than a 4.3, don’t even look at him.”
Dicaprio zoned out. Dwight turned around; he couldn’t watch. The whole field went silent. With all eyes on him, Dicaprio exploded into his run. Devereaux was ecstatic. Dwight spun back around. “That’s it,” he said under his breath. “That’s what we needed.”
Dicaprio crossed the finish line with a 4.3 time. Exactly as promised.
Stewart—who was watching alongside Banker—had already been impressed with Dicaprio that day.
“I saw his eagerness and energy. He did whatever we asked with a smile on his face,” Stewart said. “Then he ran one of the fastest times at camp.”
Nebraska offered Dicaprio a few days later. He wouldn’t have said at the time that it was a done deal when the offer arrived, but it piqued his interest. Growing up he thought he’d play college ball for one of the in-state, Power-5 programs like Miami
or Florida State. Maybe even a school in the South like Georgia, Alabama or Tennessee. He didn’t think he’d end up in the middle of the country. He did know quite a bit about Nebraska though. He was familiar with the Huskers’ rivalry with the Hurricanes and had grown up seeing the team on TV.
He was also much more familiar with Nebraska than people realized. Devereaux— who is 10 years older than Dicaprio—was a linebacker for the University of Nebraska at Omaha football team in 2006. As the proud older brother, Devereaux has dedicated himself to being one of Dicaprio’s greatest support systems. When Dicaprio started playing high school football, Devereaux would post about his brother on Instagram for all of his friends. While Omaha had shut down its football program by the time Dicaprio entered high school, those friends had bigger plans.
“Everyone is saying you need to go to Nebraska,” Devereaux told his brother.
Dicaprio shrugged. It was a long shot to start with and he was already under-recruited. Why would Nebraska even call?
“I guess it was meant to be,” Dicaprio said.
Part Three: Spaghetti With Peanut And Jelly
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way some stories are told. In the case of Dicaprio’s, there had been plans to spend time with those that knew him best and to observe how he interacted with those around him. When the sports world shut down—and Nebraska’s spring football was canceled—everything changed.
Without the typical access to players and coaches, how do you best describe someone like Dicaprio as he faces his senior season with Nebraska? You ask.
“If you could sum Dicaprio Bootle up in one sentence, what would it be?”
Here’s the thing about a question like that. Depending on who it’s about and what you’re asking, it’s hard to say what you’ll get and when you’ll get it. In Dicaprio’s case, the replies flooded in.
“D-Cap is a hard-working guy who always finds a way to motivate the guys around him,” quarterback Adrian Martinez said. “He’s a great guy to have in the locker room.”
Martinez, by the way, was the very first to respond.
“He’s a better person than football player,” former Nebraska cornerback Lamar Jackson said. “He’s loyal, hardworking, goal- oriented, motivated, caring. I can go on and on. I love how he approaches his work on and off the field and I believe in him. I feel like he has all the tools he needs to be successful and I wish him nothing but the best.”
“He’s passionate,” defensive lineman Casey Rogers said. “When you’re on the field with D-Cap, you know he is giving 100%, 100% of the time.”
“He’s very cool, calm and collected,” cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt said. “He’s a smooth criminal.”
“Can I call you?” former Nebraska defensive back Tre Neal responded. He couldn’t sum Dicaprio up in only one sentence.
“He’s one of those people that appreciates everything he has gone through in life,” Neal said. “Whether that’s the high of the highs, when he’s doing great things and everything is going OK, but also the low of the lows; I think that’s where that appreciation comes from. I remember when I first got to Nebraska and got to talking to him, I knew he was from Florida, and I played down there, so I understood a little of what those guys were like, what that life was like. He was one of the first people I was close with, and talking to him about how he was raised, how he felt he was always undervalued and how he had that underdog mentality, I was like, ‘Look, man, that’s the edge you have to use when you play.’ You can tell that’s how he plays.
“I think him just being an appreciative person, it’s easy for him to play with that edge and not let it turn into a place of anger. He had those kind of struggles getting on the field early and the things that he dealt with growing up, but he’s always had a smile on his face. That’s hard to do. And I know I appreciated the things he taught me in the short time I was there, and his friendship a lot, and we still talk today. I value him a lot.”
It doesn’t matter who you ask. Current coaches. Former coaches. Those that recruited him. Those who play with him now. Those who played with him once. Dicaprio elicits a response of respect and appreciation from those that know him. For as good of a football player as he is, they’ll tell you, he’s an even better person.
“Those were some of the principles that we teach,” Dwight said. “We tried to teach them to get along with people, try to be positive, strive for excellence, strive for greatness, respect and manners.”
Dicaprio—who received his degree last December—will enter his senior season with Nebraska as a strong candidate to be named a captain. He’s one of the brightest returning spots in defensive backs coach Travis Fisher’s room, and he’ll look to build on a strong junior season. In 2019, Dicaprio started every game, moving from cornerback in the first eight to safety in the final four. He finished the season with 31 tackles, six pass breakups and one forced fumble. He was named All-Big Ten honorable mention.
Dicaprio will also enter his senior season with a new backpack. He ordered this one midway through the 2019 season, and he only ordered it out of necessity. That sleek brown “Sharks in Paris” backpack from Jones finally needed to be replaced. He’d probably still be carrying it today—even with the cracked and peeling faux-leather around the edges—but it was the zipper finally tearing along the top that sealed the deal. The new one is also by the brand Sprayground and features stacks of money and bright yellow ribbon tape with the words “KEEP HUSTLING” crossing over it from side to side. Dicaprio added a gold backpack tag to tie it all together.
“The new one’s pretty cool but I’m still kind of sad because of the meaning behind the other one,” Dicaprio said one afternoon after the new backpack had been ordered. “I won’t throw it away. I’ll still keep it. That sounds like a hoarder, but I just look at it as the work that I’ve put in. Every time I see something that’s gone wrong over the past two years, just the work I put in, I carried this backpack everywhere with me.
“It’s symbolic in a way of the places I’ve been and the places I’ll go.”
The future is uncertain for Dicaprio now. His senior spring football looked nothing like he had imagined it would, and he has no idea what will come of the fall. He isn’t dwelling on it though. That’s not how he operates. He’s focused on what he can control and the dreams still out there to reach.
“The sky’s the limit for him,” Jones said. “I keep saying over and over, I’m excited. I tell him every time, ‘I’m excited for what you’re going to do this year because all your hard work is going to pay off.’ Nobody really sees what he does. Just like me, nobody really sees what we do behind those cameras.”
For those paying attention, you might see it. There are subtle reminders of who Dicaprio is when everyone isn’t looking. It’s a young man who builds those around him up and a young man who is loyal—even to a backpack. It’s a young man who doesn’t let an adverse scenario keep him from his dreams and a young man who isn’t worried about what a pandemic might mean for his senior season. He is instead worried about how he can make the biggest difference.
Dicaprio Bootle just wants to be great, and he doesn’t want to keep that to himself. He wants to do what Jones and so many others did for him, and that is to pass everything he’s been given on to those behind him.
“I just want people to know me for being someone that wouldn’t be denied,” Bootle said. “That would, no matter what, just try to make a way, and I could make something out of nothing.
“That I could make spaghetti with peanut butter and jelly.”
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.