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By Matt Ryan
e was driving down the 405 Freeway when his cell phone rang.
On the line was USC’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart. John David Booty answered the phone and got the news: Leinart was coming back for his senior year at Southern California. Booty would have to play backup another year.
Playing in the shadows of others is nothing new to Booty. Growing up in Louisiana, he watched his older brothers excel in sports and play at the collegiate and even professional levels. In high school, he played at a school that had already produced two national players of the year at quarterback. Now a sociology major at USC, Booty is the heir apparent to two Heisman Trophy quarterbacks in Carson Palmer and Leinart. Talk about big shadows cast upon Booty. Palmer set a Pac-10 record with 11,818 passing yards in his career, and led USC to its first Bowl Championship Series bowl game in 2002. Leinart, meanwhile, is the most successful quarterback in USC history, going 37-2 as a starter and guiding the Trojans to back-to-back national championships and nearly a third national title, if not for a 41-38 loss to Texas in the Rose Bowl last January.
But as he has always done, Booty has patiently waited for his chance to star.
“When I found out Matt was coming back, I wasn’t like ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe this is happening.’ I was happy for him,” Booty said. “You would hope to do the same thing (as Leinart). He basically has done everything you can do in college football. And that’s the goal, and I am going to try to do everything I can to win.”
Since the 2005 season, Booty has dedicated himself to be more vocal, more active, more of a leader. Offseason workouts and passing drills, and another year under his belt, have earned respect from his teammates, all of whom expect a great season from themselves and Booty.
“It’s his chance to step into the leadership role, and I am confident he will step up to the plate and lead this team to another championship” said junior All-American wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett. “He is calling plays, being aware of the defenses and executing. I think he has really grown in the offense.”
Added teammate Ryan Kalil: “Now thatMatt is gone, and (Booty) is center of the spotlight he is able to be more vocal, and it is his time to step and be a leader and lead this offense.”
“I am motivated and have put a big emphasis on doing everything the right way,” he said.
But Booty knows that being in shape and having the talent doesn’t always translate into success on the football field, and he has to be prepared mentally to fill Leinart’s shoes.
“Physically and athletically, I am ready,” Booty said. “It is the other little things that really separate the good from the great. That is what made Matt so good was his game management skills.”