It would be easy to pontificate that John David Booty’s announcement on Tuesday that he was leaving high school a year early to attend USC is yet one more example of a world gone mad.
But it’s not like a college player leaving early for the NBA or NFL at all. Booty is about the same age as many other incoming freshmen around the nation due to being held back at Evangel (many others at the Louisiana powerhouse are held back by their parents, too) and he only needs to earn an extra summer credit in English to graduate from the school.
Also, more and more top-rated prep quarterbacks are graduating early (usually in December) to head to their colleges for spring practices. Booty is just doing it even earlier.
The move to USC was apparently prompted by Johnny Booty, John David’s father, losing his job at First Assembly of God Church in Shreveport. The elder Booty helped start the football program at Evangel, the school the church runs, and was an assistant football coach. He was the interim head coach in 2000 when current head coach Dennis Dunn had to take a year off due to personal reasons.
“There were many factors that all came together,” the quarterback told StudentSports.com this afternoon, “the ability to graduate early and having been to USC to watch spring ball, but no matter what anyone tells you, it’s all about my Dad’s situation, being relieved of his duties.”
Booty earlier had written a statement that was posted on an Evangel fan web site (Rod's Evangel Christian web site) saying: “I will be leaving Evangel after the 2003 summer school session to attend the University of Southern California. The chancellor has made a decision that has affected my family, and I am sorry that my dad and I cannot finish my senior year with my teammates.
“I want to express my thanks to my Principal, Linda Bass, and to the entire administration and faculty. Playing for Coach Alexander, Coach Bachman, Coach Merry, Coaches Pat and Chris Tilley, and Coach Dunn has been the best. The players mean more to me than I can ever say and winning two state championships with them will always be the highlights of my life. And to the Evangel fans--I will always love you--Thanks for the memories!!!”
On the college football recruiting front, Booty’s decision makes USC’s incoming class of prospects that was already considered the best in the nation even better.
According to Brian Stumpf of Student Sports, the Trojans still had at least one scholarship that had been left open to account for any incoming players who might not pass the SAT. Booty will get one of those scholarships and will count as being part of the current class, not the next one.
“This is a coup for USC in many ways,” Stumpf said. “The Trojans can now go to some of the top quarterbacks this year and tell them that with one redshirt year they can get in line two years behind John David instead of one.”
Booty told Student Sports today he knows when he’ll head West.
“I will head for Southern California on July 5,” he explained, “and my hope is my final high school competition will be against other fine quarterbacks from around the country at the EA Sports Elite 11 in late July. However, this is all so new to me so I’ll go over everything USC (compliance) and the NCAA to make sure it’s alright.”
So why USC?
"Since I was eight years old I've wanted to come out here," Booty told Greg Biggins, Director of Recruiting for Student Sports, recently when he was in Los Angeles prior to announcing his decision. "I just really love it here and feel so comfortable with the coaching staff and the players on the team that I've met. USC is a fast rising program and I think it would be a good fit for me."
In the 2001 season, Booty passed for 3,956 yards and 37 touchdowns in leading the Eagles to a 14-1 record. He passed for 4,330 yards and 50 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2000.
If he had returned to Evangel, Booty would have been able to move up high onto numerous all-time national lists and there would have been a healthy debate involving himself and Kentucky’s Brian Brohm as to which one should be the nation’s No. 1 quarterback. Brohm now has that claim more to himself.
Even with skipping his senior campaign, it seems Booty has been well-known for many years now.
“We had been hearing a lot about Booty since he was a mere freshman and he already had offers from schools like UCLA and Texas before he ever took a snap at the varsity level,” says Biggins.
“He attended the Nike Camp in Baton Rouge two years ago in what was the summer leading up to his sophomore year.
"Booty, at 6-3, 200 pounds, showed off a strong, accurate arm and tested off the charts as well running a 4.56 in the 40, 4.09 in the shuttle and jumped 28 inches in the vertical. Later in the summer, we invited Booty to the Student Sports Elite 11 as a ball boy and that's where he really blew us away.
"At the Elite 11, a ball boy is an underclassmen who we feel has a chance to be an actual participant as a senior. They throw a ton of balls but are also there to assist in setting up tables, cleaning up trash and other fun stuff like that. Every time Booty threw, no one could believe he was just a rising sophomore.”
Biggins wasn’t the only one to be wowed by the then sophomore.
Houston Texan offensive coordinator Chris Palmer came out to scout some of the college counselors including David Carr (No. 1 overall pick to the Texans), Carson Palmer (potential No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft) and Kurt Kittner (part-time starter for the Eagles last season) at the 2001 summer event.
At that time Palmer was fresh off being the head coach of the Cleveland Browns and was on his way from Los Angeles to visit the San Diego Chargers’ camp.
“Who’s that?” Palmer asked Andy Bark, the Director of the Elite 11, pointing to Carr whom he would soon sign to a $71 million contract.
Palmer then asked about Booty and Bark replied he was just a sophomore.
“You never know,” Palmer continued,” these kids are more and more coming out early after playing only three years.”
Bark finishes the story: “I smiled and said, ‘He’s just a sophomore in high school, coach,’ and Palmer just shook his head and said, ‘That kid has dynamite in his elbow.’"
Booty’s departure also creates doubt whether Evangel will go ahead and play an ambitious schedule that was in the works for the upcoming season.
Many other returning starters -- including standout fullback Jacob Hester and All-American defensive end Chris Bowers -- are still coming back this season, but Booty was clearly going to be the lynchpin and his presence also had to be at least part of the reason why Paragon Productions has been so interested in pushing for a matchup between the Eagles and three-time reigning national champion De La Salle of Concord, Calif., for a LeBron James-like ESPN or ESPN2 telecast.
The Contra Costa Times reported on Wednesday that the game was a “done deal” and that it would be played at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill (near San Francisco) on October 24. But with Booty no longer at Evangel and with the knowledge that final signatures still need to be given, is it really a done deal?
Evangel also is scheduled to play at defending state champion Hoover of Hoover, Alabama, and at home against defending state champion Rockhurst of Kansas City, Mo., before even going to California. Even if the De La Salle game is held as scheduled, there’s now more of a likelihood that Evangel could be coming with one loss or two already on its record.
And no matter who the new Evangel quarterback is, he would be going against a vaunted De La Salle secondary without the school’s longtime quarterback coach there to guide him.
“Hopefully, this doesn’t mean that high school football is going to become like high school basketball where players are transferring all over the place,” said Student Sports national rankings editor Doug Huff. “I could see some quarterback finding out about this and wanting to head over to Shreveport to take Booty’s place.”
Maybe the world has gone mad, after all.
Mark Tennis, Doug Huff, Greg Biggins and Brentt Eads contributed extensively to the content in this article.