"Denny Duron was raised an only child; Johnny Booty was the brother he never had," says Dennis Dunn, Evangel's football coach since 1992. "Denny was the p.r. man for all the Booty boys, and he still loves those boys with all his heart. Furthermore, Denny still loves Johnny with all his heart. I've never known a man to be more devoted to another than he was to Johnny."
Until the dissolution of their friendship, the two men were as great a force on the national high school football scene as they were in leading souls to Jesus. In Louisiana the name Evangel means championships, nine of them state titles and one, in 1999, a national title. At a time when most Louisiana colleges were lucky to draw 20,000 spectators to a game, Evangel, which has all of 250 students in grades K--12, attracted 41,878 to a '99 matchup with rival West Monroe. As the Evangel football team flourished, so did First Assembly. In his Sunday sermons Duron often invoked football analogies to help illustrate the path to righteousness, and the preachers who also were coaches for Evangel believed that God had mandated every victory.
Those in Shreveport who don't know Denny Duron as a charismatic preacher and globe-trotting evangelist may still recall his days as a football star. Duron played quarterback at Captain Shreve High and Louisiana Tech, throwing to future pros Pat Tilley, Roger Carr, Mike Barber and Billy Ryckman. After college he played for two years with the Birmingham Americans of the World Football League, then briefly with the Washington Redskins. In 1976 he left the Redskins' training camp after, he says, he received a calling from God to pursue the ministry. Evangel, founded by his father four years later, would become his pulpit.
It was Duron who led Johnny to Christ, in 1973, shortly after Johnny, a former all-state quarterback at Shreveport's Woodlawn High, transferred from Arkansas to Louisiana Tech. The two had known of each other growing up in Shreveport but didn't become friends until they were teammates at Tech. According to Johnny, Duron possessed a "rhetorical genius" that made him a compelling leader who was impossible to resist.
Years later, when Duron's mother, Frances, then the headmistress at Evangel, told her son that she wanted the male students to enjoy a "football experience," Duron approached Johnny about helping him build a program. That was 1989. For over a decade Johnny had seemed content in his roles as associate pastor and quarterbacks coach, ministering to families and turning out one record-breaking All-America after another. Johnny says that changed when he received his own calling from God in the spring of 2003, near the end of John David's junior year.
Johnny envisioned a ministry for "the common man," he said, welcoming cowboys and car mechanics and any other blue-collar type tired of traditional churches. He wanted people to gather in small groups, usually of no more than 30, and worship in homes rather than in a church. Our Home Fellowship, he called it.
As Johnny began to build a following, his longtime friend was not pleased. According to friends of both men, Duron couldn't fathom how Johnny thought he could serve both First Assembly and Our Home Fellowship. He thought Johnny was demeaning the church from which he was still receiving a paycheck by promoting his vision of how to worship. After a discussion that April, which Johnny describes as no more heated than any other the two friends usually had, Duron relieved him of his duties with both the church and the football team. And in so doing Evangel lost the most impressive young quarterback the state of Louisiana had ever seen.
Friends and teammates, including Denny's son and John David's close friend since childhood, wide receiver Denny Rodney Duron, encouraged the young quarterback to remain at Evangel. But John David says loyalty to his father gave him no choice but to graduate early and move on. Some questioned why Johnny didn't insist that John David play his senior year and finish with his class. Johnny says he left that decision up to his son, believing he was mature enough to make the right choice.
Once John David announced that he was leaving early, he says, "I'd walk the hallways, and nobody hardly looked at me anymore." He needed only an English class to graduate, and he completed it that summer before leaving for California.
" John David gave up his whole memory of Evangel for his father," says Dunn. "It should've been about two adult men moving on with their lives. But it didn't work out that way."