Tide's McCarron sounds like a leader among leaders
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Mar 18, 2013 | 6678 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TUSCALOOSA — AJ McCarron has a new view of things headed into his senior season, his third as Alabama’s starting quarterback.

It’s a view that comes from watching seven other, younger quarterbacks taking all-too-familiar development steps.

It’s a view that comes from another Fourth Quarter offseason program, complete with a team meeting designed to squash entitlement issues after the Tide won its second consecutive national title and third in four years.

Alabama’s newly crowned, unquestioned team leader feels says he feels … well … “old.”

“I’ve got to get back into things,” he said Saturday after the Tide’s first spring practice of the year. “I feel like I’ve been here 15 years. Just got to get back into the motions and get back throwing.”

Don’t worry. It’s not all the notoriety that arose around his relationship with former Miss Alabama Katherine Webb.

It’s not the ribs or the knee that caused him to play in pain for much of the 2012 season.

It’s not his 25 victories and just as many national titles (two) as losses as a starting quarterback or his 158.12  combined passer rating in two Bowl Championship Series finals.

It’s not the tough-love push he got from friend and former teammate Barrett Jones when the two flared at each other late in the most recent BCS final, in January.

It’s the accumulation of all of those experiences and the weight of leadership, which Jones and other older players bore in McCarron’s first two years as starter.

For the first time in McCarron’s time as a starter, the quarterback and leader among team leaders are the same person. More than ever, his team will depend on him in the quest to make it three rings in three years.

 “AJ’s leadership is critical to our team,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “AJ has the capabilities of being a good leader, and he has to assert himself as that and impact and affect other people by the example that he sets.”

No one questions McCarron can assert himself. He showed that plenty by calling Jones out on the field when the quarterback and former center got their got signals crossed in Miami.

Then Jones, a senior and four-year starter playing for his third national title, reasserted himself. He pushed McCarron on national television, letting him know who’s the leader for the rest of their final college game together.

Alabama finished off its 42-14 rout of Notre Dame not long after the fourth-quarter flare-up, and the team became McCarron’s.

He has spent the past four years learning and earning the mantle. He first learned by watching Greg McElroy play the dual role of starting quarterback and team leader.

“Even if Greg didn’t teach me everything, I still tried to watch everything and how he did it,” McCarron said. “You still have to worry about your own job at the same time, so you can’t be teaching the whole time, but I definitely had to, as a younger player, watch the older players and learn that way.”

What did he learn?

McCarron was around in 2010, when the Tide lost three games a year after winning a national title, so he learned the evils of entitlement. Just weeks after his watch as master and field commander started, four players got arrested and kicked out of school.

Message?

“You just have to be accountable for your job on- and off-the-field,” McCarron said. “We’re getting an education at the same time, to do the right things not only because we represent this team and this university, but our last name, our families.”

Teammates will remember what he did in 2012, playing with a bum knee from the Missouri game on and with iffy ribs from the Mississippi State game on. How bad was it?

“Three ribs kept popping out of place,” he said. “I mean they basically popped out.

“We put two back in, but my top one up there just kept coming in or out. It would just pop in and out when I’d throw. It was just a lot of rehab.

“I have to give thanks to my training staff. They’re excellent.”

Ah yes, always credit others in the organization.

Also, don’t bask in lionizations for laudable things like playing hurt. Answer with an emphatic “pfft.”

“It was painful, but everybody plays through injuries,” McCarron said. “That’s part of being in the SEC.

“Week in and week out, you’re going to get beat up. Everybody plays through them. It’s just a normal injury.”

Sounds like McCarron has watched, learned and earned well. He has all the confidence of his boss.

“I think the players like AJ,” Saban said. “I think they respect AJ, and I think the more he does things the right way, the more he’s going to be able to affect other people.

“He’s always done a good job of that.”

Now, it’s time for the old man to do it as the lead voice on the field.

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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