He was driving his mother's car, making a loop around town, visiting neighborhoods he hadn't been to in years. A slow-moving winter storm was dumping rain on Shreveport, La., but the day looked just fine to USC quarterback John David Booty, home for a few days before he had to return to Los Angeles and yet another year on the bench as Matt Leinart's backup. � Booty, a 20-year-old redshirt sophomore, stopped at a traffic light and looked out past the wipers raking his windshield. "I love being here," he said on an early January afternoon, little more than 48 hours after the Trojans' 55--19 win over Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl. "In L.A. you drive so much and you never know where you are. Here in Shreveport, nothing's strange. Every place you go, you've been there before."
The light changed, and he drove out to his old neighborhood. A few weeks before, Booty's parents had moved to a gated community on Shreveport's south end, but this was where they'd lived for the past 10 years. The house is a large brick Acadian on three acres, with a swimming pool, a barn and a coppice of fruit trees in back. Today it stood empty, the windows dark, the wet lawn littered with leaves. "My grandparents lived back there in a trailer," Booty said, nodding toward the barn. "Me and Josh and Abram and Jack," he continued, ticking off the names of his brothers. "We'd play football and baseball and Wiffle ball. We had a four-wheeler and a go-kart. It was good here. Our school was real close, over in that direction." He gave a look over his shoulder. "You want to go see it? Want to see Evangel?"
Booty put the car in reverse but then stopped. "Maybe I shouldn't be doing this," he said. "It's been a while, and because of what happened, I haven't been back. It really upsets me. I can't even go to my old school anymore. I can't visit my old teachers--it would put them in an awkward situation. I don't want to do that to them. Even more," he glanced again toward the school, "I don't want to do it to myself."
Booty waited a few moments, then finally started toward Evangel. He was driving faster now, and as he moved along the slick black street he named the families who'd been his neighbors, a couple of them connected to the Evangel team he'd led to Louisiana state championships as a sophomore in 2001 and again as a junior in 2002. Shreveport has long been a source of first-rate quarterback talent, having produced former NFL stars Terry Bradshaw, Joe Ferguson, David Woodley and Stan Humphries. And since fielding its first football team in 1989, Evangel Christian Academy has produced some great players at the position: Josh Booty, Brock Berlin--both starters at one time for a top college program.
The most impressive schoolboy quarterback in the city's history, however, was John David Booty, the third of Johnny and Sonya Booty's four sons. Although Leinart will be returning to USC this fall for his senior season, the Trojans' most gifted player at the position might be the Heisman Trophy winner's backup. "In terms of physical talent John's as good as anybody I've coached," says Norm Chow, the team's offensive coordinator until he left in February to join the Tennessee Titans. Booty, 6'3" and 195 pounds, is a faster, more dangerous runner than Leinart, and he has a stronger arm. Once he gets a little game experience, he's likely to help Trojans fans recover from the loss of Leinart as quickly as Leinart helped them get over losing 2002 Heisman winner Carson Palmer.
In high school Booty threw for 8,474 yards and 88 touchdowns in just two seasons. He left Evangel after his junior year and enrolled at USC, which explains his reluctance to visit the Evangel campus today.
As Booty approached the school's entrance he slumped lower in his seat and slowed. A visitor's station stood inside the fenced property, with a sign instructing guests to check in, but Booty turned quickly and shot past it. A young woman inside the booth came to her feet and stared at the passing car. Booty ignored her. "All they can do is ask me to leave," he said.
He drove around the building and stopped at a fence with a corner end-zone view of the school's football stadium. At the far end of the playing field stood a scoreboard with a large sign that said RODNEY DURON FIELD, named for the longtime senior pastor of Shreveport's First Assembly of God, the Pentecostal church that runs Evangel. The scoreboard acknowledges the school's championship teams--teams led by John David Booty and by his brothers Josh and Abram ... and by his father, Johnny, who tutored every quarterback who played there.
At least that was the case until the spring of 2003, when Johnny Booty and Rodney Duron's son, Denny, best friends for 30 years, ended their relationship in a dispute that both still refuse to discuss in detail. "I'm going to have to be mum on what happened," says Johnny. "I don't want to hurt anybody--Denny Duron or anybody else. I worked with a lot of those men and women at Evangel, and I loved them, but I've got to stay true to my values; I don't care how many championship rings you get to put on your fingers."
"I'm in the grace business," says Duron, the chancellor at Evangel, in response to a question about his split with Booty. "I serve a Jesus who says I'm to bless those who curse me and do good to those who spitefully use me, and I'm to pray for my enemies. I can't get into what happened to me and Johnny Booty."