Feature: Spotlight is on Booty

Aug. 22, 2007

By Peter Simones
Daily Trojan

August 22, 2007

Los Angeles, CA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- It's amazing how much can change in a year.

Entering fall camp last season, the quarterback situation was considered by many to be in flux. Then junior John David Booty, long thought to be the sure-fire replacement to Matt Leinart, was held out of spring practice due to injury and redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez was impressing with his strong arm.

Booty held off the talented freshman, but did not make it through the season without a few too many of his passes batted down at the line of scrimmage and a few hushed calls for Sanchez.

Fast forward a year, and the situation could not be more different.

Coming off his 391 yards and four touchdown Rose Bowl performance, John David Booty is entrenched as USC's starter, not to mention a Heisman Trophy front-runner.

Gone are the days when Booty needed to prove himself worthy of the starting role. The redshirt senior now finds himself as the face of USC's 2007 campaign and the unquestioned leader of the Trojans' offense.

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has worked with Booty for four years and has witnessed the marked transformation in his game.

'He's got such a firm understanding of the offense now,' Sarkisian said. 'His movement is a lot better, he's a lot more explosive, he's a lot quicker and he's a lot stronger in the pocket.'

Booty's growth isn't limited to his performance. The psyche and confidence of a player entering the year as a proven commodity varies greatly with that of a player fighting for a starting role.

'Any time you are a fifth-year senior, your maturity level heightens,' Sarkisian said. 'His understanding of the game of football is really high. He's understood the leadership responsibility that he assumes and I think he's embraced that role of being the leader of this football team.'

But with Booty's increased stature and notoriety comes expectations. Last year's team, in light of losing several juniors to the NFL draft, wasn't expected to make it to the national championship. The team exceeded expectations, but ultimately the Trojans' two losses kept them out.

Two losses this year would be a major disappointment - a fact that Booty and his teammates are well aware of. Part of the territory that comes with being a star is getting praise for victories and shouldering the criticism for defeats.

In spite of this, Booty still contends he places no extra pressure on his performance.

'I don't consider any of that stuff when I'm out here,' Booty said. 'I'm looking for big things from myself, but my biggest concern is giving (my teammates) the best chance to win on Saturdays.'

USC winning on Saturdays used to be conflated with outstanding running back performances, earning USC the nickname 'Tailback U.' In recent years, however, more focus has been applied to the lineage of Trojan quarterbacks.

Carson Palmer led the Trojans to the Orange Bowl title in 2002 and became the first USC quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy. Matt Leinart followed with two national championships and a Heisman of his own in 2004.

If Booty were to win the Heisman, it would complete a trifecta of greatness at the quarterback position likely never to be matched.

In light of the onslaught of press already heaped on Booty, coach Pete Carroll made sure to point out that USC football has never revolved around its quarterback.

'I think it's important to understand that in our program, our quarterback has never been the guy that we have to rely on to do everything,' Carroll said. 'Back in the days when we designed (this offense) for Carson and Matt, those guys were to be the point guards - deliver the ball to the guys they have available.

'For John David, we're still going to maintain that aspect of our offense.'

Those words were something Booty, sitting next to Carroll at the news conference, enjoyed hearing. He is a quarterback who puts the team before himself and prefers to blend in to greatness rather than stand out from it.

As fellow senior and quarterback Michael McDonald said of Booty's attitude toward the upcoming season, 'He knows the deal and he'll do great,' adding that Booty simply 'gets it.'

On a team with 10 returning defensive starters, Booty is one of only a few anchors returning on the offensive side of the ball.

The reigns are firmly in his hands, and Booty says he's ready as he'll ever be.

'Last year, just coming off of back surgery, I was a little unsure,' he said. 'This year, being strong and having a whole off-season in the weight room - all those things go into your mind along with the confidence of having a full season and being pretty successful as a team.

'I'm hoping to carry the things I've learned over to this season.'

(C) 2007 Daily Trojan via CSTV U-WIRE

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