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Saturday, September 2nd 2006

They Know Me In New York…

I’m cutting and pasting this from a message board, I can’t find the actual link. Take a look at a great, informed article on USC’s next great quarterback – John David Booty,

September 2, 2006
After Seasons of Waiting, Booty Is Finally Behind the Wheel
By PETE THAMEL
LOS ANGELES, Aug 29 — During Southern California’s spring football practice in 2003, the search to replace Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer looked bleak.

Two unproven backups, Matt Leinart and Matt Cassel, struggled so much that a quarterback prodigy from Louisiana decided to enroll a year early at U.S.C., becoming the first major college football player to leap to college after his junior year of high school.

John David Booty’s decision to skip his senior year at Evangel Christian in Shreveport did not come without careful consideration. Booty visited U.S.C. during the spring of 2003 with his father, John, a high school coach; his brother Josh, a former college and N.F.L. quarterback; and a family friend, Rob Johnson, a local quarterback guru.

“After watching Matt and Matt, they thought that he could beat them out,” U.S.C. Coach Pete Carroll recalled with a chuckle after a recent practice. “Those guys were struggling so much at the time, we kind of thought he could, too.”

Four years later, as John David Booty prepares for his first career start for the Trojans, at Arkansas on Saturday, the notion of Booty’s beating out Leinart seems almost surreal. Leinart went 37-2 as a starter at U.S.C. and led the Trojans to two Associated Press national titles. Cassel was drafted as a quarterback by the New England Patriots, despite never throwing a touchdown pass at U.S.C., and he now backs up Tom Brady.

But Booty, now a redshirt junior, insists he has no regrets about his groundbreaking decision because it prepared him for his current gig as starter. Booty’s college career ended up being like so many journeys in Los Angeles — delayed by a bit of traffic.

“I’m totally happy with my decision,” Booty said. “I still have an opportunity to play two years at U.S.C. Three would have been great, but two is two. You can’t really ask much more from a big-time university.”

At first, Booty wondered what he had gotten into. He arrived as a skinny 17-year old with a Cajun drawl and no idea that it could take two hours to drive somewhere 15 miles away. Booty used to call plays so slowly in the huddle that Trojan players joked that he needed to get to “L.A. speed.”

But there was no doubting his talent. Booty was good enough that the Trojans switched Cassel to tight end after Booty won the back-up job for the 2003 season. How close Booty came to beating out Leinart is debatable, but a back injury during that summer’s camp significantly dimmed his chances.

Leinart held onto the job, defeated No. 6-ranked Auburn on the road in his first career start and never was threatened again.

“If he doesn’t hurt his back, I really think he starts that first game,” offensive lineman Ryan Kalil said of Booty. “He’s a talented quarterback.”

As Leinart’s legend grew, Booty did not complain and never considered transferring, but he struggled at times with not playing for the first time in his life. He took frequent visits that year to his brother’s apartment in nearby Hermosa Beach. Josh Booty had seen enough in his diverse sports career to counsel John David.

Josh played third base for the Florida Marlins for 13 games over three seasons, then played quarterback at Louisiana State for two years after his baseball career fizzled. Josh then played three years in the National Football League as a backup with the Cleveland Browns.

Josh admitted he was too comfortable as a backup in the N.F.L., and did not want his brother to make the same mistake.

“I told him to try to get something out of it every day,” Josh said. “I got into that holding pattern in the N.F.L., where you just go through the motions.”

John David Booty’s teammates and coaches clearly do not think he is going through the motions. This summer, Booty was elected captain, a rare honor for a junior who has not started a college game.

After missing the 2004 season with an elbow injury, Booty has deftly run the Trojans’ offense during the past two spring practices; Leinart missed the 2005 session with an elbow injury of his own. Those opportunities established Booty as the front-runner to become Leinart’s successor, and he staved off a challenge from the heralded redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez.

Carroll calls Booty a “natural quarterback” and a “classic thrower,” and the co-offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said that accuracy would be Booty’s hallmark.

“You watch J. D. throw and it’s like he’s throwing darts,” Sarkisian said. “He can hit spots all over the dartboard. He’s similar to Greg Maddux on the mound.”

Booty enters his first start completely comfortable. His accent has faded a bit, his cadence has sped up and he knows to leave the house two hours early to drive anywhere around town. Booty said that he avoided the Hollywood scene that Leinart thrived in last year, though he said that he planned on making Southern California his permanent home.

“He’s at L.A. speed now,” Sarkisian said. “He’s wearing flip flops, surf shirts and sunglasses every day. He’s gone through some different thing. He’s talented young man who’s really grown up to be a quarterback.”

And Booty said that sitting and observing the past three seasons should prepare him for anything that comes up over the next two.

“I think waiting is what got me ready for this opportunity and what faces me ahead,” Booty said. “It’s not going to be an easy road all the time.”

At least, for now, the traffic has cleared.

*EDIT*
I probably can’t find it on the NYT site (even though the copyright info on the article, which I didn’t copy indicated they have picked it up) because the tagline says it is was written by a Los Angeles Times staffer. I still can’t find the article, but here is another Los Angeles Time article on Booty.

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