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January 25, 2008

Booty hopes to again rise to the occasion

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MOBILE, Ala.John David Booty had the unenviable task of following Heisman winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart as USC's quarterback. Some players would shy away from that responsibility. Booty said he embraced the role.

"That's what I love," he said after Tuesday's Senior Bowl practice. "It seems to be something I had to deal with since I could remember, but that's fun, living up to the expectations. I have higher expectations on myself than most people on the outside. I just want to be me, go out and play the way I'm capable of playing, and not try to be those guys."

Cincinnati selected Palmer with the first pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. Leinart went 10th in the 2006 draft, to Arizona, and was the second quarterback taken in that draft. Some mock drafts project Booty to be picked somewhere in the third round. Frank Coyle of www.draftinsiders.com has Booty as the No. 70 player among his top 100.

"He's as accurate as anybody we've ever had, and our guys have done pretty well," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "You can see day after day he's going to throw the ball right to guys. He's naturally accurate and he has a great arm and a great feel for the game. He's a terrific football player. …He's extremely well-prepared and guys are going to see he has great consistency to him. He loves the game."

Booty threw for 2,361 yards, with 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and completed 63.2 percent of his passes this season. He missed three midseason games after breaking the tip of his middle finger on his right (throwing) hand in the second quarter of the loss to Stanford on Oct. 6.

He finished that game but struggled, throwing four interceptions in a 24-23 loss when the Trojans were ranked No. 2. USC won its final five games, including a 49-17 rout of Illinois in the Rose Bowl in which Booty threw for 255 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. In games where Booty was healthy, the Trojans did not lose.

For his career, Booty's 518 completions and 6,125 passing yards rank fifth on USC's career list. He threw at least one touchdown pass in 22 of his 23 starts, at least two touchdowns in 16 games and had 18 200-yard games.

USC played in five BCS bowls during Booty's career and won national titles in 2003 and '04, although he wasn't the starter in either season. The Senior Bowl has been his chance to further prove he can play on the biggest stage.

"It's a job now," Booty said. "It's a business. There are no taking plays off or taking it easy. You have to go to work. This is how we'll feed our families. It is important we come out and make it a big deal about our hard work and our preparation, and everything we do works toward being the best football players we can be."

Exceeding expectations is something Booty has done all his life. He was a varsity member at Shreveport (La.) Evangel Christian as a seventh-grader. Booty led his high school to the Class 5A title as a sophomore and junior. In those two years, he threw for 8,474 yards and 88 touchdowns.

He graduated high school after his junior year and went to USC. Booty is believed to be the first high school player to leave the prep ranks a year early to play college football.

In his freshman season, Booty challenged Leinart and Matt Cassel for the starting job, but the Trojans decided on the more experienced Leinart. Booty had to wait his turn. Then after winning the Heisman in 2004, Leinart surprised many by returning for his senior year, which meant Booty had to wait even longer.

"It would be difficult for anybody to go in and duplicate what Leinart did and with his celebrity status," said Booty's brother, Josh, who played at LSU. "J.D.'s personality is a lot more like Carson Palmer's than it is Leinart's. He's not as much 'Hollywood' as Leinart. He didn't even want to be that. He just wanted to win football games. If he wouldn't have broken his finger, they probably would have played for a national championship."

Josh Booty played for three seasons in the NFL after a two-year stint at LSU. Before that, he played baseball for five years in the Florida Marlins' organization. Josh also was a star quarterback at Evangel Christian.

"(John David) developed young," Josh Booty said. "He had a beard when he was 13. He was shaving before I was and I'm (about) 10 years older than him, but he's as well-prepared as any quarterback coming into the draft. He's played in more big games than anyone coming out and he's going to silence some of the critics.

"He's real accurate and doesn't try to do too much, and that's exactly what a quarterback has to do. He handles himself well and he doesn't get too high or too low."

Another person who can attest to Booty's demeanor is LSU running back Jacob Hester, a former Evangel Christian teammate.

Hester said the criticism that Booty cannot throw the deep ball is unfounded. Hester said Booty's best throw might be the long pass across the middle.

"He had the best arm," Hester said. "He had an NFL arm in high school. He made all the throws. He was our team leader. He was the best player in the country, so it's kind of hard to find something bad about him. I wish he was on my team."

Booty hopes NFL scouts and personnel have the same opinion.

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