McElroy leading team after three years as backup

sports@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 9, 2009 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Greg McElroy slipped back to his homeland of Texas for a few days of rest after the spring semester.

There was time to relax, unwind and take in a George Strait concert that opened the new Cowboys Stadium.

Then it was back to football and back to Tuscaloosa.

For three years, he has waited his turn to lead the Alabama offense, so the junior quarterback isn’t going to let his work ethic slip as the season approaches.

That extra work didn’t come without sacrifice.

“My girlfriend will attest, I didn’t spend a lot of time with her,” McElroy said. “My time was dedicated to the team and improving the team. I spent a lot of time watching film of our offense and some of the opponents that we will be facing. I think it paid off as far as my understanding of what I want to improve on.”

Through the first few days of preseason practice, teammates say they have confidence in the right arm and strong mind that sat behind John Parker Wilson for three seasons.

Coach Nick Saban was quick to express his dislike for talking about expectations or making comparisons of McElroy or any other player on the team. But senior wide receiver Mike McCoy was willing to link his quarterback to a superhero.

“He is going to surprise a lot of people,” McCoy said. “We just feel like he’s the man. He’s our Superman.”

Since coming out of Southlake Carroll High School in 2006, McElroy has developed a reputation as a brainy quarterback who needed to develop arm strength.

Ask any Crimson Tide player about their quarterback’s best attribute, and intelligence will be quickly followed by leadership. McElroy’s work in the classroom made him a college graduate before starting his first game.

The business marketing major received his diploma Saturday to finish his undergraduate degree in three years with a 3.85 grade-point average.

Along with the smarts comes confidence that McElroy has turned into helping his teammates through the mental and physical strain of preseason practice.

“Camp is grueling,” he said. “You need someone to pick you up sometimes. And I want to be that guy.”

When it comes to the physical side of the game, the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder set a few goals for August practices.: improving his ball release and timing with his receivers.

Tight end Colin Peek said there is a considerable difference between the McElroy who won the starting job in spring practice to the McElroy who is leading the way this August.

“It’s night and day.” said Peek, a Georgia Tech transfer. “You can tell there is a comfort level with him now with him in the offense for all of spring and all of summer. I’m just really looking forward to what he’s going to do.”

Any questions about his arm strength were addressed in the weight room this summer. He blew past his bench-press goal of 350 pounds to max out at 370 pounds. The plan, said McElroy, who also did power-cleans to improve leg strength, was to add bulk to “withstand the drudgery and the impact of the season.”

He also attended the 2009 Manning Passing Academy.

The Crimson Tide quarterback shared a suite with Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and runner-up Colt McCoy of Texas at the July camp in Louisiana. Spending time talking football with the nation’s elite quarterbacks was as helpful as anything, McElroy said.

It wasn’t all business, however.

“You can’t be around football players without a little trash talking,” a smiling McElroy said.

Now that the season is just weeks away, the Crimson Tide quarterback isn’t thinking about traveling if it doesn’t involve Alabama football.

A July 4 weekend trip back to Texas gave him one last taste of home for a while.

“I won’t make it home until, hopefully, January,” McElroy said.

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