The Washington Times - December 30, 2008, 09:44AM

BOISE, Idaho – Back in late September or early October – I can’t remember which – I was in the Gossett team house and saw the ever-personable Bemi Otulaja at the far end of a hallway.

I started to wave, but he had some news he couldn’t wait to holler:

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“I’m out of the boot!” he said, probably unaware coach Ralph Friedgen wouldn’t be thrilled with any sort of unofficial injury report.

I mentioned I was happy he was rid of the thing, and then he added, “That thing was crimping my style.”

Alas, he was not done with the walking boot, a plastic, gray contraption that just doesn’t look very good. And for a man as stylish as Otulaja, the constant ankle tweaks – both left and right this season – have meant far too much time with alternative footwear.

“That boot is ugly,” Otulaja said. “That boot is so ugly, and the trainers keep threatening me with it. They say ‘Bemi, you keep coming back here and I’m going to put you in a boot.’ I said ‘No boot, no boot.’”

Before the Terps went home for Christmas, Otulaja proclaimed he was done with walking boots. Just completely finished with them. When I mentioned freshman tackle Tyler Bowen has walked around in one for seemingly a year – so much so you could almost name a boot for him – Otulaja shuddered.

“You can have the Bowen,” Otulaja said. “I just don’t want the Bemi. Just walking around with it sort of hurts more than walking around without it. Not even the pain, just that everybody’s like ‘Bemi, what happened?’ And I say ‘I twisted my ankle. I have to wear a boot.

“You can use it for the sympathy factor. You can go tell girls ‘Oh, I broke my ankle’ and they say ‘Oh Bemi, oh Bemi.’ Fact of the matter is, I twisted my ankle. They’re like ‘Can you play on Saturday?’ And I say ‘Yeah, I can play.’ And they say ‘You’re good enough to play but you have to walk around in a boot.’ Yeah, I know.”

He got those questions a lot. Otulaja battled an ankle sprain in camp, so on came the boot. There were nagging issues in the middle of the season, so more time in a boot. Then there was the ankle injury aggravated against Virginia Tech that pretty much cost him the North Carolina game.

Fortunately, this is Bemi, so he found a way to put a humorous twist on it all.

“I told them I was going to get my own personal boot and put Louis Vuitton prints or Gucci prints on it and personalize it,” Otulaja said.

Like I said, this is a man of style.

Despite his distaste for the boot, he is certainly an expert on the subject. The plastic model is not nearly as loathsome as the metal version, he said, though he admits his time in a metal boot did make his calf muscle especially strong.

But with today’s Humanitarian Bowl serving as the finale of his college career, it is a bittersweet time for Otulaja. The sweet part, no doubt, is being rid of his season-long nemesis.

“I’m not wearing the boot no more,” Otulaja said. “No more. That’s one of the positive things about this being my last game. No more boot. They’re not going to hold me down anymore.”

Patrick Stevens