Carroll's shadow stands 6' 3", quite a bit taller than he, and the shadow doesn't even sport Carroll's silver and grey hairdo. When Carroll's new shadow speaks, he even does so with a slight southern accent. His shadow actually wears a uniform. Number seventeen, to be exact.
When Trojan fans look at the teeming figure that follows Carroll as he paces the sidelines, they don't see the inexperienced sophomore quarterback who is the only player ever to graduate early from high school to play major college football. All Trojan fans see is the future of USC's high-powered offense and national title hopes.
Throughout the next few weeks, debates will rage throughout campus, the Coliseum and of course, the internet, as to whether to redshirt coveted Trojan reserve quarterback, John David Booty. Although Booty could possibly thrive immediately if Leinart did go down (considering Leinart's new-found mobility), this young man can learn more from watching this season instead of playing in it.
That's because John David Booty isn't just watching the game. He is really watching the game and watching star quarterback Matt Leinart. Carroll and the rest of the coaching staff have made sure of this by attaching Booty squarely to Carroll's hip during the first two games. When Carroll calls in a play to Leinart, Booty is there. Listening. When Leinart trots to the sideline between plays and Carroll reminds him, "Check down on Dwayne, look to Lendale in the flat," Booty is there. Observing. When Leinart makes a poor throw on third down and comes to the sideline to bear the wrath of his head coach, Booty is there. Learning.
This talented coaching staff is making sure that every game is a learning experience not only for the quarterback on the field, but for the one waiting on the sideline. If Booty does sit this year, and dedicates his time to learning this offense, he will step onto the field as a seasoned veteran, just like Leinart did. A little over one minute into his college career, having never attempted a pass, Matt Leinart dropped a 17-yard touchdown into the hands of Mike Williams in one of the most hostile environments in college football. Matt Leinart had been preparing for this very moment for two years. He knew exactly where the pass rush would come from, exactly where Mike Williams would be and exactly how much touch to put on the ball. That's because he spent two years as a shadow, as a student.
Leinart came in from Mater Dei as a highly-touted recruit, and went straight to the bench. He redshirted in 2001, and did not throw a pass in 2002, but those two years were more valuable than the cocky, young Leinart would ever know. That's because he was doing exactly what John David Booty is; watching and learning behind a potential Heisman Trophy winner. Simultaneously, Leinart was learning one of the most successful offensive systems in football history.
Developing quarterbacks with infinite physical skills like those of Matt Leinart and John David Booty learn nothing from mop-up duty. A developing quarterback like Booty does not benefit from going 7 of 14 for 90 yards with no touchdowns and one broken arm in a full season. A young quarterback can become a veteran in the blink of an eye, but a massive amount of mental preparation is needed to accomplish that in a hostile environment.
When John David Booty steps on the field to open the 2006 season in Fayetteville, Arkansas against the Razorbacks, he may seem, "inexperienced." But Booty will trot onto that field knowing he's a seasoned veteran. He'll call the play, take the snap, and deliver a crisp clean touchdown pass to veteran wideout Dwayne Jarrett. After the touchdown, John David Booty blinks once, and he's a superstar.
Danny Page is a junior who also serves as the color commentator for USC football on KSCR 1560 AM.