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Booty Picks Fast Track

Louisiana high school quarterback to skip senior year to come to USC.

April 17, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Louisiana State University sent John David Booty a recruiting letter in the sixth grade.

Miami relayed an informal scholarship offer the next year when the strong-armed young quarterback took his first high school snap as a seventh-grader.

Booty stayed on the fast track to college football, and possibly beyond, when he announced Wednesday that he will forgo his senior season at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, La., and enroll at USC in the fall.

"I'm not putting any pressure on myself to be some superstar or be an All-American next year," said Booty, who was regarded by many as the top player in the Class of 2004. "I'm looking forward to being part of that team and being with those coaches and hanging out with those players and going to class. I can't wait to get there and get in the rhythm of things."

Though athletes in other sports, particularly girls' soccer, have skipped their senior seasons and continued on to college, Booty's leap is thought to be unprecedented for a major college football player. Gail Dent, a spokesperson for the NCAA, said the organization does not keep statistics on the number of early high school graduates.

Allen Wallace, who has been tracking recruiting since 1985 for SuperPrep magazine, said Booty's decision to skip his senior season is the next logical step in the current national trend. USC fullback Brandon Hancock and punter Tom Malone, for example, played their senior high school seasons, graduated a semester early and enrolled at USC last spring. Both played as freshmen last fall.

"The floodgates have already been opened with kids getting into college early and getting the jump on the competition," Wallace said. "Booty might be the most notable example, and it's a sign of things to come.

"The system puts kids in the athletic pipeline with great coaches and mentors at a very young age. They are learning skills kids used to learn in college.

"They are focused, directed and goal-oriented, and they have worked hard to put themselves in position academically where they are not going be impeded."

Former USC quarterback Carson Palmer, who won the Heisman Trophy as a fifth-year senior last season, was stunned when he learned of Booty's plan.

"If that's what he wants to do, and he thinks he can do it, more power to him," said Palmer, who is expected to be the top pick in the NFL draft. "But there's no way I would have done it in a million years. High school football is so much fun -- I wouldn't miss out on a chance to play that final season."

Booty, 6 feet 3 1/2 inches and 200 pounds, was nationally ranked Evangel Christian's starting quarterback the last two seasons, but he has already played high school football for parts of five seasons. Louisiana rules allow junior high students to compete for K-12 schools. Evangel Christian, which has won eight state titles since opening in 1989, is a K-12 school with an enrollment of about 600.

Booty, 18, made a commitment to USC last month. At the time, he planned to play his senior season, graduate a semester early and enroll at USC next spring.

The timeline accelerated dramatically when his father, John Booty, was fired as Evangel Christian's quarterbacks coach Friday after a monthlong internal debate at the school about his status. John Booty had recently begun a bible-study group and ministerial Web site, actions he said put him at odds with the school chancellor.

John David said the family had joked in the past about his leaving high school early. His father's dismissal, and the prospect of playing his last season without his mentor on the sideline, made him consider the option seriously.

"Once this thing occurred, I started to go, 'Well, maybe it is time for me to move on. Maybe I am ready,' " Booty said. "I should have graduated two years ago, as many years as I've been dressing out."

Athletes are eligible to compete at NCAA colleges and universities if they complete required high school core classes, graduate, achieve a qualifying score on the Scholastic Assessment Test and are certified by the NCAA Clearinghouse.

Booty, who has passed for 8,286 yards and 87 touchdowns the last two seasons, has only one English credit left to complete graduation requirements. He plans to take that class during summer school at Evangel Christian, arrive in Los Angeles in July and start classes at USC in August as the Trojans begin preparations for their Aug. 30 opener at Auburn.

USC coaches are forbidden by NCAA rules from commenting publicly about Booty until he enrolls in school.

But Trojan Coach Pete Carroll and his staff probably found themselves in a quandary when the Bootys first approached them about arriving in the fall rather than next spring.

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