McElroy takes aim at Rhodes scholarship

There have been bigger weeks in Alabama’s storied football history.

But few weeks compare to what this could be for Alabama senior quarterback Greg McElroy.

He’s come to cherish every Saturday in the fall. This Saturday, though, will be different.

McElroy, after directing Alabama against Georgia State on Thursday night, will be at a Birmingham, Ala., hotel on Saturday undergoing the final step in what he hopes will lead to a prestigious Rhodes scholarship.

The finalist interviews for his region are Saturday. And as fate would have it, the Crimson Tide don’t play that day because the Georgia State game was moved up prior to the season to allow for more preparation time for Auburn, which is off this week.

McElroy has been doing his own preparation this week as his big day nears.

He’s participated in a mock interview with the Rhodes scholarship committee on campus. He’s been looking over current events news every chance he gets and generally researching everything and anything going on in the world right now.

“You have no idea what you’ll be asked in the interview,” McElroy said. “That’s the scariest part. You have no clue which direction the interview could head. You try to prepare the best you can, but you don’t know what the interview will entail until the day you get there.”

McElroy’s teammates have tried to keep him on his toes this week. They’ve quizzed him about everything from President Obama’s healthcare plan to world politics.

“They’ve had a good time with it, just trying to keep my head in the game,” McElroy said.

The truth is that McElroy’s head is always in the game -- on the football field and in the classroom. He already has his marketing degree at Alabama and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in sports management.

He’s made one B during his entire time at Alabama and can tell you the course, the teacher, the time the class met and who else was in the class.

“The class was Management Leadership, and (former Alabama kicker) Leigh Tiffin was in there with me,” McElroy recalled. “He got a B- and we both were ticked.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban said McElroy is the ultimate multi-tasker, but never loses focus on what he’s doing at the time -- be it football practice or studying for a test.

“When he’s a football player, he’s a football player,” Saban said. “He focuses on that and spends a lot of time preparing, but he does a lot of other things well, too. He separates and multi-tasks, and when he’s into that stuff, he’s focused and doing it well.

“I know he has some very important things coming up that are important in his life and his future, and we want to support him in that in every way that we can. But I have not seen any effect on how he’s acted and practiced and done things [on the football field]. I think that’s a tribute to the kind of character he has and the kind of maturity that he has, and people like him are successful because they can manage all of these things.”

McElroy, who’s third in the SEC in pass efficiency this season, won’t find out if he’s been awarded the Rhodes scholarship until sometime Saturday evening. He has to be there at 8:30 in the morning.

He’s swapped voice mails with former Florida State safety Myron Rolle, who won a Rhodes scholarship in 2008 while playing for the Seminoles. McElroy said he plans to talk with Rolle at some point before the interview.

“It will be a long and excruciatingly painful wait for my 30-minute interview and then waiting for them to announce the winners,” McElroy said. “But it’s something I’m looking forward to.”

After all, the chance to study for two or three years at Oxford University in England doesn’t come around every day.

It would also cap what’s been a dream ride for McElroy, who helped lead Alabama to its first national championship in 17 years last season while playing with broken ribs in the title game.

He truly is the essence of a student-athlete and wears that label with pride.

“I know most people see us on the football field and don’t see us in the classroom or see us in study hall, but we’re students first,” McElroy said. “The first goal for myself, and I would hope for everybody, is to earn a college education and try to make the most of the opportunity we’re given as scholarship athletes.

“You can’t control what happens on the football field, but you can control whether or not you walk out of here with a college degree.”