LOS ANGELES -- John David Booty awoke early Monday morning for his first class of the fall -- sociology -- one of four courses he's taking this semester to complete his major. Sitting in the back of the classroom, relatively unnoticed by the other students, Booty must have felt a strong case of déjà vu. Not from past sociology classes he's taken but from the countless quarterback meetings he's been in since coming to USC three years ago.
It seems as if Booty has spent his entire college football career in a classroom, studying for a test that kept getting delayed and sometimes felt like it would never come. That all changed this semester, however, when Booty was named the team's starting quarterback and co-captain. Although the first test -- a road game against Arkansas -- is less than two weeks away, Booty hardly seems fazed by the challenge.
"It's awesome, I can't wait," said Booty, who became the first high school football player to graduate a full year early from high school to enroll at USC. "I'm just excited to get out there and prove what I'm capable of doing, and that's leading this team to wins."
While there was serious competition from Mark Sanchez during spring practice -- when the redshirt freshman got all the first-team snaps while Booty sat out due to a herniated disk in his back that required surgery -- Booty never feared that he would lose the starting job. When the Shreveport, La., native was cleared to return to action this summer, there was little doubt among coaches and teammates who the leader of this team was.
"John David has a deeper understanding of what we're doing," said coach Pete Carroll. "Even though [the battle with Sanchez] was competitive, the move was never there to make a change... I'm more comfortable with [Booty] now than I was with Matt Leinart three years ago."
Although the well-mannered Booty, who talks in a low Creole drawl, doesn't say much, he is like E.F. Hutton when he does open his mouth. A couple weeks ago when the players were supposed to assemble outside of Heritage Hall to take the team picture, many of them were signing autographs in the lobby, ignoring pleas from athletic department officials to come outside for the picture. It wasn't until Booty came in and said, "C'mon guys, lets go," that they all began to head outside.
"He's our leader," said junior tackle Sam Baker. "He's been ready. He was ready last year when we all thought Matt was going to leave. He's a natural leader. He takes control in the huddle. From Day 1 he came in and told guys who've been starting for a couple years what to do and where to be. The fact that we have so much confidence in him and his knowledge of the system shows. We would always talk about what he was going to do and how he was going to come in lead us and it's finally happening."
Even before Booty was officially named the team's starter and co-captain, he was given a hint that this would be his year. Not from any coach or player, but from a bookstore employee who hung up dozens of his No. 10 jerseys in the store before camp began.
"It was so cool to see that," said Booty. "At times you were wondering in those three years if all this hard work was ever going to pay off, but then when you see stuff like that you know it has and it makes you smile a little bit. Just knowing that everything you've done wasn't just a waste of time. That you were doing it for a reason and that reason is to lead this team."