By MICHAEL CASAGRANDE
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There is an extra buzz this week in the halls of football-crazed Carroll High School in Southlake, Texas.
It’s not just the in-house prep power, the Longhorns or Aggies creating the chatter this week in the Dallas suburb.
A reunion of former coach and quarterback in over in Tuscaloosa, Ala., has them talking.
The most unusual of circumstances pits former Carroll quarterback and current Alabama starter Greg McElroy against his old high school coach Todd Dodge, now the leader of the University of North Texas program.
The 11:21 a.m. Saturday meeting in Bryant-Denny Stadium is the culmination of a scenario first discussed between the two a few years ago in a Copeland’s of New Orleans restaurant, a Southlake favorite of both Dodge and McElroy.
“He actually said he’d be playing us in a couple years,” McElroy said. “Obviously, when the schedule was released this year, that’s the game I circled. It’s not that I want to beat him real bad or anything like that, it’s going to be fun seeing those guys.”
When McElroy played for Dodge, he beat up on every team Carroll encountered. The Dragons pounded their way to a third state title in four years as McElroy broke a state record with 56 touchdown passes as a senior in 2004.
Sports Illustrated profiled the high school’s dominance in the same August, 2007 issue that featured Nick Saban on the “Raising Alabama” cover. The magazine story chronicled the unique move Dodge made when he left Southlake to take the head coaching job at North Texas on the strength of his 79-1 record over his last five seasons at Southlake. Success at the Sun Belt Conference school proved harder to achieve through three seasons in nearby Denton.
His Mean Green teams have won just four of the 26 games and enter Saturday’s game with a 1-1 record this fall. Dodge’s son, Riley was McElroy’s backup in 2004 and the starter following his departure. Eventually, Riley Dodge followed his father to North Texas where he was the starting quarterback until a shoulder separation sidelined him for Saturday’s game.
The banged up quarterback is one of five players listed on the North Texas roster as being from Southlake. When Todd Dodge made the move up, he took a former Carroll offensive coordinator, Clayton George with him. In fact, there has been so much turnover at Carroll, offensive line coach Jeremy Trojacek thinks he might be the only current assistant coach who was around when McElroy took over the starting job at Southlake as a senior.
In his 10 years at the high school, Trojacek said he never saw a player work harder than McElroy. He remembers catching the quarterback practicing on his own, throwing footballs into trashcans.
“I saw him grow from a kid that wasn’t necessarily the best athlete growing up, but worked himself into being one of the best,” Trojacek said.
The leadership qualities and intelligence that his Alabama teammates rave about today were cultivated at Southlake as his old assistant called the quarterback, who earned his bachelors’ degree in three years, a “brainiac.”
As the game approaches, McElroy said phone calls from his old high school buddies have rolled in. They’ve joked with him about stealing Dodge’s signals to help the Alabama defense, a topic Saban also laughed about in Monday’s news conference.
“Well, we haven’t asked him, yet,” Saban said with a smile. “We’re still trying to figure it out on our own. The way I liked to do it is see if I can figure it out and then ask him if I’m right or wrong. That’s not how it supposed to be between the player and the coach, but that’s the way we do it.”
If McElroy continues to progress as he has through his first two weeks, Alabama should be in good position Saturday. He’s completed 61.1 percent of his passes (33-for-54) for 471 yards a game. The only interception to McElroy’s name was thrown when being hit against Virginia Tech on a night that saw him settle down from a slow start to lead an 18-point fourth quarter comeback.
Then, against Florida International, McElroy found nine different receivers and set a school record with 14 consecutive completions, mostly without star Julio Jones who went down with a first-half knee injury after catching just one ball.