NEW ORLEANS -- When you’re the quarterback at the University of Alabama, it’s hard to go unnoticed.
Adults know you. Kids know you. And you’re more than likely going to have a random baby named after you.
But somehow, AJ McCarron managed to stay relatively low key during his first season as the Crimson Tide’s starter.
Until his media appearance Thursday inside the New Orleans Marriott at the Convention Center, McCarron had done a pretty good job of distancing himself from journalists with help from coach Nick Saban.
Shockingly, the player who usually is more recognizable than the governor of Alabama went through most of 2011 away from the public eye.
“When you don’t get to talk to the media all year long, it’s not that [hard to avoid the limelight],” McCarron said.
But as he faced a throng of media members for his mini news conference, he certainly acted like the man in charge of Alabama’s offense. He spoke with confidence and sure looked like the Tide’s quarterback.
While McCarron hasn’t had to feel a ton of media scrutiny this season, his play has been criticized here and there. He will enter Monday’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game against No. 1 LSU with 2,400 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. He’ll also enter it with a lot of questions.
Is he ready for another big game on the big stage?
Can he fix the mistakes he made the last time?
Can he live up to the high school hype that followed him to Tuscaloosa?
McCarron thinks he can ... and he thinks he will.
You see, McCarron is a perfectionist. Mistakes really eat at him. Not immediately, but with time to sit and fester in his brain, errors can drive McCarron crazy. Dinner with him after a game can be almost unbearable because of his thirst for immediate improvement.
For most of his football life, McCarron has flourished each time he’s taken the field. As a three-year starter in high school, McCarron threw for 6,066 yards, 66 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
With those numbers, it comes as no surprise that the little mistakes that have arisen this season frustrate him so much.
“When little things like that happen, I try to do my best to make sure they don’t happen again,” McCarron said.
That’s why the LSU game still haunts him. There were a handful of throws -- his interception in particular -- he wishes he had back. His poise was off, his throws were wild and his confidence wasn’t as high.
In the losing effort back on Nov. 5, McCarron threw for 199 yards and an interception on 16-of-28 passing. It has some wondering whether he can stand another game against LSU’s talented secondary.
“I don’t really pay attention to that,” he said. “I go out and play my game. I’m basically letting my play do the talking.”
To his teammates, his play has said a lot.
Senior center William Vlachos has marveled at McCarron's ability to show composure in environments at Florida, Penn State and Auburn. He also has been impressed with McCarron’s leadership skills, which emerged instantly after Greg McElroy left and before he was named starter.
“He’s very poised and he’s never wavered,” Vlachos said. “I’ve really been impressed with that. I kind of expected him to get a little bit rattled, being the quarterback at Alabama in those situations for the first times, but he really hasn’t had a problem with that.”
He also hasn’t had much of a problem expressing himself with some emotion on the field. If you watched carefully during the first part of the season, McCarron spent time showing just how much he thought of big plays with some trash talk, goofy celebrations and chest bumps.
“He’s kind of fearless,” junior offensive lineman Barrett Jones said. “He just doesn’t back down from big situations. For a young, first-year quarterback, that’s something that you are really impressed with as an offensive lineman. You can see that in his eyes.”
But after the QB taunted a Florida defensive lineman in early October, Saban told McCarron to tone down his emotions -- a move that proved costly a month later.
On Nov. 5, McCarron had no emotional edge. He wasn’t himself, and he didn’t play like it.
Almost immediately after, Saban told him to rev up that emotion, and here the two are -- days away from competing for a national championship.
McCarron said his antics -- which sometimes can be just random arm flailing, as Jones pointed out -- aren’t just for him. McCarron believes they energize his teammates, and Alabama will need plenty of that against LSU on Monday.
“I gotta play with emotion,” he said.
“That’s how I’ve always played the game. I try to get the best out of every guy around me. I feel like when you do that, when you play the game with emotion, it just gets guys’ energy level to the highest.”