Wednesday, January 6, 2010
In a perfect state
By Arash Markazi
Greg McElroy is everyone's favorite son this week. That's what happens when you're the undefeated starting quarterback at Alabama, who was raised in Texas and born in California.
As McElroy sat in front of media members in Newport Beach from each state he has lived in, he was pulled in every direction to talk about why his time in, well, insert your local town here, made him the player he is today.
The freckle-faced redhead -- who didn't play much football in California, wasn't highly recruited in Texas and held a clipboard his first three years in Alabama -- had finally made it.
"After the South Carolina game I think I'd probably be an orphan," said McElroy, joking about his two-interception, no-touchdown performance against the Gamecocks this season. "It's nice being able to come back and play this game up the road from where I was born in Northridge, Calif. It's come full circle for me and it should end on a good note here on Thursday."
McElroy would be lying if he said he always dreamed of playing in the Rose Bowl. Despite going to every imaginable sporting event in nearly every stadium and arena in Los Angeles, McElroy admits he's never been to the Rose Bowl. The first time he will step foot in the building will be Thursday night when he leads 13-0 Alabama against 13-0 Texas in the BCS National Championship Game.
"I've seriously been to over 500 Dodgers games and I've been to the Coliseum many times," said McElroy, a die-hard Dodgers fan who can recite the entire lineup top to bottom. "I feel like I've been to every stadium in L.A. except for the Rose Bowl."
If McElroy kept a scrapbook of every game he's ever gone to it would read like a history book of great Los Angeles sports moments from the past 20 years. Born five months before Kirk Gibson's home run in the 1988 World Series, he has seen the Kings play in the Stanley Cup finals, the Angels win the World Series and the Lakers win the NBA title. He's essentially had a front-row seat to L.A. sports history thanks to his father, Greg McElroy Sr., who worked in the Kings' and Dodgers' front offices and is now the senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Dallas Cowboys.
Now it is McElroy's time to carve out his own moment in his hometown even if it's for a team based 2,000 miles away.
"Being a guy from L.A. who grew up in Texas there really wasn't one set team I wanted to play for," said McElroy, who has already graduated from Alabama and is a Rhodes Scholarship candidate. "I loved Texas Tech when I was in Texas, my mom went to Florida State, my dad went to Hawaii. I also loved Stanford because I was a smart kid and I thought I'd impress people by saying I liked Stanford. There wasn't really one school I was set on; I think that's why I was so open during the recruiting process."
The one team that wasn't as open to McElroy during the recruiting process as he would have liked was Texas. Although he embraced Texas Tech as his team after moving to Dallas when he was 10, there was a part of McElroy that wanted to go to Texas or at least be wanted by the Longhorns. He led Texas high school powerhouse Southlake Carroll to a 16-0 record and the state title his senior year and threw for 56 touchdowns and 4,687 yards. That same season Texas upset USC in the Rose Bowl to win the national championship.
"I was recruited by [Texas] a little bit but I was never offered a scholarship," said McElroy. "Like I told the guys in Alabama, I got a good enough look from them that they decided they didn't want me. I don't think I was fast enough for them. I wasn't really much of a UT fan anyway. Orange was never my color."
If you quantify McElroy by sheer numbers, most schools would probably come to the same conclusion Texas did. He doesn't have the strongest arm or the quickest feet and would likely go undrafted in the NFL. But there is one thing McElroy has going for him: He never loses. Well, almost never.
McElroy is 29-0 as a starter in high school and college. He backed up former Missouri star Chase Daniel at Southlake High School and John Parker Wilson at Alabama. In both instances, McElroy mastered the art of patience before producing perfect results. Despite not experiencing a loss as a starter in nearly eight years, that one blight on his record still eats at him.
"We lost, 8-6, in the eighth grade against Cross Timbers Middle School," said McElroy. "I'll never forget it. We didn't kick field goals and we were 7-1 that year and 6-0 going into the game and our center [Justin Drescher], who's actually the long snapper at Colorado now, go figure, snapped it over my head for a safety and we lost 8-6. That game still bothers me. I never want to have that feeling again."
Despite being passed over by Texas coming out of high school, McElroy credits one of the Longhorns' coaches and former quarterbacks in Major Applewhite with his development. Applewhite, who is Texas' assistant head coach, was Alabama's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2007 and knew McElroy was destined for greatness as soon as he got a chance to play.
"I would always pick up the quarterbacks' notes to see what they were learning and you could almost copy his and make a textbook," said Applewhite. "He was very meticulous, organized, smart and responsive. He's a gym rat. He used to come in on Sundays and Mondays after watching NFL and college games and ask about certain plays and that showed me how much he loved the game of football."
McElroy's signature moment this season came in leading Alabama to a come-from-behind victory against Auburn on a 15-play, 79-yard drive that culminated in a game-winning touchdown pass to Roy Upchurch. It was not only a season-saving drive but also a career-defining series for McElroy, who finally came to grips with the type of player he is and needs to be for Alabama to be successful.
"I'm not going to be able to throw the ball through a brick wall or outrun anyone but I realized I'm going to be more successful being a game manager as opposed to a game-breaker," said McElroy. "I made peace with that. Sometimes that's tough on your ego as a quarterback but obviously I've had a lot of success doing what I've done and am very pleased to have made that realization."