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Alive and Well
Phil Taylor
September 11, 2006
New quarterbacks Colt McCoy and John David Booty opened to rave reviews as Texas and USC warmed up for major tests with easy victories
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September 11, 2006

Alive And Well

New quarterbacks Colt McCoy and John David Booty opened to rave reviews as Texas and USC warmed up for major tests with easy victories

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The opening weekend of the college football season was a little like a campus kegger--good, unruly fun, with so much activity that it was hard to know where to look. There were supposedly cool kids who spilled their drinks all over themselves (hello, ninth-ranked California, a 35--18 loser at No. 23 Tennessee) and big men on campus who looked a little awkward on the dance floor (presenting No. 2 Notre Dame, a 14--10 survivor at Georgia Tech). But it was a pair of quiet newcomers to the festivities--a couple of coaches' kids, one with a Cajun drawl and the other with a West Texas twang--who turned out to be the life of the party. The mature, efficient performances of USC quarterback John David Booty and his Texas counterpart, Colt McCoy, didn't guarantee return trips to the national championship game for their teams, but they did at least indicate that fans of the Trojans and the Longhorns won't have to spend the season pining for their departed star QBs, Matt Leinart and Vince Young. McCoy, a redshirt freshman making his college debut, coolly directed third-ranked Texas to a 56--7 dismantling of North Texas last Saturday, a precursor to a far more definitive test this Saturday, when No. 1 Ohio State visits Austin. Booty, a junior from Shreveport, La., who sat patiently for three years while Leinart was winning national titles, picking up the Heisman Trophy and partying with Hollywood celebrities, was even more impressive in his first game as a starter, if only because he faced tougher competition in the sixth-ranked Trojans' 50--14 drubbing of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Next up for USC is a Sept. 16 date with No. 20 Nebraska.

Since both teams are brimming with talent in every other area, the play of Booty and McCoy confirms--as much as anything can be confirmed in Week 1--that the Trojans and the Longhorns are still of championship caliber, although their personalities have changed along with their quarterbacks. McCoy, who completed 12 of 19 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns, won't scramble for as many third-down-and-forever conversions as Young--although he did have a nifty 27-yard run against North Texas--but he appears more than capable of getting the ball to a variety of playmakers, including wideout Limas Sweed, who took a slant pass from McCoy and turned it into a 60-yard touchdown on the Longhorns' third play from scrimmage. It was one of the six touchdowns Texas scored on the seven possessions that McCoy played.

Booty, who was 24 of 35 for 261 yards and three touchdowns, surely won't attract the People magazine reporters and paparazzi who tailed Leinart, but he showed some of the same accuracy and unflappability that made his predecessor, like Young, a first-round NFL draft pick. "I thought he really settled in after the first quarter and made some outstanding throws," said Steve Sarkisian, the Trojans' quarterbacks coach, who compares Booty to a pitcher with pinpoint control. "He's like Greg Maddux in the way he can put the ball in the spot it needs to be."

Both McCoy and Booty have benefited from the advice of their famous predecessors. McCoy and Young talk about once a week, "more for support than anything," McCoy says. Booty text-messaged Leinart the night before the Arkansas game for the same reason. "I wanted some advice from him on how to approach this whole thing," Booty says. "He told me I was going to do great, and that the main thing was not to be in a hurry, to let the game slow down a little bit."

Booty had a hard time putting that advice to use right away. He was shaky at the start, rushing a few first-quarter throws. The Trojans were up 16--7 at halftime mainly due to two Arkansas turnovers that led to 10 points. But in the second half, Booty was positively Leinart-like with two particularly sweet throws, a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Patrick Turner that he threw low and away from two defenders, and a nine-yard toss to tight end Fred Davis that he lofted high into the back of the end zone, where only Davis could reach it.

Unlike Booty, McCoy didn't have any early jitters to overcome. In fact he was worried about not being worried. "Is it normal that I'm not nervous?" McCoy asked coach Mack Brown last Thursday. "Yeah," Brown replied. "It means you've done your job and you're prepared. You should be eager and excited, but not nervous."

Almost from the day that Young declared for the draft, Brown has made it clear that he doesn't expect any Longhorn to duplicate his former quarterback's spectacular plays. To reinforce that message he replaced last year's team motto--"Take dead aim"--with one that has a more modest feel: "Just do what you can do." But McCoy has already proved himself capable of a different type of heroism.

He was spending the final night of last Memorial Day weekend with his family at their home on Timber Ridge Lake near Graham, Texas, when he and his father heard a woman shouting for help from across the lake. The two McCoys didn't have a boat and judging by the urgency of the cries, they felt it would take too long to drive around the lake. So they swam 300 yards in the dark to the woman's home, where they found her husband collapsed on the deck, suffering what would later be diagnosed as a grand mal seizure. "I did what anybody else in the same situation hopefully would have done," Colt says.

Once there, Colt climbed, shoeless, up the steep, craggy canyon path to the main road, where he flagged down the ambulance that neighbors had called. Then he and his father helped the paramedics carry 60-year-old Ken Herrington to the vehicle. After a one-week hospital stay, Herrington is at home, en route to a full recovery.

The two McCoys had been fishing most of that day, which is typical of Colt's non-football pursuits. He's partial to the things you might expect of a kid named Colt from Tuscola, Texas, a town so small (pop. 714) it has only one blinking stoplight. That would include hunting white-tailed deer and listening to country music on the jukebox. But it's football that is in McCoy's blood. One of his earliest memories is of standing on the sideline as a four-year-old water boy for the high school team his father then coached when a play came his way. He was flattened by a runner heading out-of-bounds and broke his collarbone. "I thought I was old enough to take it," he says. "I guess I wasn't."

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