Longtime backup Booty gets call at QB for USC

LOS ANGELES -- John David Booty arrived at Southern California three years ago with expectations so high many thought he would beat out Matt Leinart during the 2003 season.

Of course, no one knew at the time that Leinart would lead the Trojans to a 37-2 record and win a Heisman Trophy during one of the finest careers for a quarterback in NCAA history.

Now, finally, it's Booty's turn, and he's confident he can continue the tradition of winning quarterbacks established at USC by Leinart and 2002 Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer. The Trojans open their season Sept. 2 at Arkansas, drubbed 70-17 last
year by USC.

"The guys before me have set high standards. That's what I want to do, by winning games," said Booty, a 21-year-old redshirt junior from Shreveport, La.

Booty didn't say a word about the Heisman or any individual awards -- just winning.

"As a young quarterback, my biggest goal is to have our football team win, not put it in bad situations," he said. "All I can control is what I do."

Booty comes from a football family. His brother Josh was the LSU quarterback in 1999-2000, and another brother, Abram, was a wide receiver at LSU from 1997-99 and at Valdosta State in 2000.

Booty's father was his quarterbacks coach in high school before being fired following his junior year. With that, Booty decided to graduate early and pass up his senior year to enroll at USC.

Booty beat out highly regarded redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez for the starting job. In a show of approval, teammates elected Booty as one of the Trojans' four team captains.

He'll get his first test Sept. 2.

"I'm not worried about these guys at all," USC coach Pete Carroll said of his young quarterbacks. "Matt followed Carson and was able to get it going. It took Matt about four or five games before he got it rocking.

"Hopefully we're going to run the ball like we always have to take the pressure off. John David understands what the system calls for -- the audibles and the checks. Our system is the same that it's been. We're not changing a thing," Carroll said.

Quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian expressed confidence in both USC quarterbacks as well.

"Last year, there would have been about 100 schools that would have wished these guys were their starting quarterbacks," he said. "If they weren't good enough, we'd get somebody else. We feel good. [But] you don't know for sure until they play in a game."

Booty saw limited action as Leinart's backup last season, completing 27-of-42 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions.

"They know the system. John David and Sanchez, they're both great quarterbacks," All-American wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett said. "I think either one will do just fine. I'm not worried about it at all. They're both very accurate."

Booty didn't take part in spring practice because of back surgery in March. He had experienced problems since his junior year in high school because of a herniated disc. The problem became serious when a part of the disc broke off and stuck in a nerve.

"I've never felt as good as I have these last couple of months," Booty said. "I get up and go every day feeling great. Within two hours of the surgery, it was like my whole life had changed."

Sanchez made a positive impression during spring practice, but Carroll had already committed to Booty. While both have been impressive at practice this month, Booty is clearly No. 1.

"The most important thing is, John David and I are great friends," Sanchez said. "This is the essence of competition. I think we're both making each other better. Whoever starts, the backup's going to be giving him high-fives after touchdowns."

Booty said much the same thing regarding Sanchez.

"Mark and his family are awesome people," Booty said. "I'm glad to have Mark here. I think he's going to have an awesome career at USC. I promise you, Mark's going to do well at USC at some point. Waiting's not necessarily a bad thing."

Booty should know.

"Sitting for these last couple of years has been a blessing," he said. "It's just really good to get reps -- that's the biggest thing. It's hard to get a feel for the game without getting reps. I'm making decisions quicker and quicker every day."