In his four-year pro baseball career Josh, a third baseman, played in only 13 major league games. He could stand at home plate at any ballpark in the country and throw a baseball over the centerfield fence on a rope, but he had a harder time hitting the curveball.
In January 1999, with one year left on his contract with the Marlins, Josh, then 23, was given his release after he agreed to repay a portion of his signing bonus, and he returned home to play college football, exciting fans in Louisiana who remembered him as the big-armed phenom whom most college recruiters had ranked ahead of New Orleans's Peyton Manning when both were high school seniors in 1993. Josh could've signed with any program in the country, but he wanted to play with Abram, who had led the Tigers in receiving the previous fall, at LSU. In the fall of 1999, Josh's freshman year, the Tigers' receiving corps was so riddled with injuries that a reserve quarterback was occasionally called on to play in the slot. Josh finished the season with 19 interceptions, the most in the school's history. The next year, Nick Saban's first as the coach in Baton Rouge, Josh rebounded and was named to the all-SEC team, then declared for the NFL draft at season's end. Selected in the sixth round by the Seattle Seahawks in 2001, he was cut before the regular season began. The Cleveland Browns picked him up a day later, and he sat behind Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb until being released in September 2003.
Abram's post-Evangel career was also a disappointment. He still holds three national high school receiving records: career touchdown receptions (83), catches (302) and receiving yards (5,867). Although he enjoyed a promising start at LSU, Abram underwent back surgery after his sophomore year and lost both speed and confidence. He quit the team three games into his senior year, explaining that he'd grown disillusioned with his limited playing time. He transferred to Valdosta State in southern Georgia and played out his college career as a Division II backup.
If John David learned anything from the college careers of his brothers, it was that a player needed to be in the right system to succeed. He and his father began to study "quarterback lineages," as Johnny called them. And the lineage that impressed them the most was USC's. Offensive coordinator Chow had spent the bulk of his career at BYU, where he'd developed quarterbacks Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Ty Detmer, among others. He also coached Philip Rivers, the fourth pick in the 2004 NFL draft, for one year at North Carolina State, and under his direction USC's Palmer had become a Heisman winner and the first pick of the 2003 NFL draft.
Determined not to "sacrifice another of my sons to a running school," Johnny shipped game tape of John David to Chow in 2002, between the youngster's sophomore and junior seasons. That USC had fine players at his position didn't deter John David from choosing the Trojans over Miami and Michigan, teams with quarterback lineages of their own. John David returned home from a recruiting visit to Los Angeles in March 2003, one month before his father was fired from Evangel, and said to Johnny, " USC is the new Quarterback U, and I'm going to play there."
This fall, in addition to John David and, of course, Leinart, USC has a promising quarterback in Mark Sanchez of Mission Viejo, Calif., the high school national player of the year in 2004. "There's always somebody behind you who wants your job and who's a good player," says John David.
In January when Leinart announced his decision to return, Johnny called John David to find out how he was taking the news. With Leinart gone, the starting job would've been John David's to lose. " John David was shocked," Johnny says. "It took him about 24 hours, and then he realized there wasn't much he could do about it except get right back to work. And that's what he's done.
"He called me a few days later," Johnny says. "It was early in the morning, and he said he'd already had a weight workout and met with the quarterbacks coach. People might say he's going to get frustrated and transfer, but that isn't going to happen. John David is a steady-as-it-goes guy. He's ready. He said, 'Daddy, in two and a half months when spring practice starts I'm going to be the best quarterback on that field.'"
John David was true to his word, putting distance between himself and Sanchez with a spring performance that earned raves from the Trojans' coaching staff. An effortless passer who is equally comfortable throwing on the run as from the pocket, Booty reminds his coaches less of Leinart--who sat out spring practice recovering from left elbow surgery--than Palmer, now the starting quarterback for the Bengals. "He can make every throw in the book," says Steve Sarkisian, USC's quarterbacks coach.
" John David could be our starting quarterback right now," says Trojans head coach Pete Carroll. "There is no question that he is ready to play."