Dec. 29, 2006
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -As a kid growing up in the south, John David Booty always wanted to live in Los Angeles.
Because of football, he got his wish. And he's learned a few important lessons since arriving from Shreveport, La., nearly 3 1/2 years ago - like dealing with traffic.
"I try my best to fit in. I've still got a lot of Southern in me," a grinning Booty said, the proof in the drawl. "Now, I go home, I'm dressed two hours before I've got to be somewhere."
Booty passed up his senior year at Evangel Christian High to attend Southern California early, having earned quite a reputation as a prep quarterback.
He arrived at USC with such high expectations that many thought he would beat out Matt Leinart before the 2003 season. It didn't happen, and Booty sat and watched as Leinart led the Trojans to a 37-2 record during one of the finest careers for a quarterback in NCAA history.
Booty finally got his chance this season, and had quite a year, completing nearly 62 percent of his passes for 2,956 yards and 25 touchdowns with nine interceptions. Even so, there were some detractors, no doubt because the eighth-ranked Trojans (10-2) lost as many games as in the past three years combined.
The naysayers weren't part of the USC family.
"Awesome. He's been the rock all year - the one solid guy," offensive tackle Sam Baker said.
"He's like our silent killer," wide receiver Steve Smith said. "He doesn't say much, he just gets the job done. I'm proud of what he's done for us. He's lived up to every expectation in my eyes."
Smith and Dwayne Jarrett give USC one of the best wide receiver tandems in the country, but both spent time on the sidelines with injuries this season, making Booty's job that much more difficult.
But he never complained.
"We've been fortunate to have good guys here, and he's the next one of them to where he makes great decisions," offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said. "He doesn't throw the balls up - he throws them to the right guys."
Michigan (11-1) realizes the importance of containing Booty.
"He's their leader. When he's hot, the team is hot," linebacker Dave Harris said. "He puts the ball in his playmakers' hands, and that's the job of a quarterback. He has a very strong arm, he can make all the throws. Give him time, he can pick you apart."
Booty and the Trojans were headed toward a berth opposite No. 1 Ohio State in the BCS championship game before losing to crosstown rival UCLA 13-9 four weeks ago. Instead, they'll face No. 3 Michigan in the Rose Bowl game on Monday.
"It will be my third one to be a part of and first as a starter, so I kind of know what the buildup is all about leading up to the Rose Bowl," he said. "I'm excited to play in my first one."
Booty said waiting his turn was frustrating at times, but he has no regrets. And he feels pretty good about the way he's played.
"I'd probably give myself a `B,' knowing what I want from myself," he said. "I think there's room for improvement this offseason. I don't think I'm the player yet that I want to be or that I know that I can be, so I've got to get working hard after this game."
Booty, a fourth-year junior who turns 22 next Wednesday, would love to follow his USC predecessors - Leinart and Carson Palmer - into the NFL.
But not quite yet.
"Oh, I'm staying," he replied when asked if he would forgo his final season of eligibility. "I waited so long to be in this situation. I don't feel like there's any rush for me. To give this up after one year, I'm not going to do that.
Only seven seniors are listed on USC's two-deep depth chart offensively and defensively, and the only underclassman who might turn pro is Jarrett. He will decide in the next two weeks.
"I think the sky's the limit for us next year," Booty said.