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November 26, 2010The University of Alabama football team was practicing on the SMU campus in Dallas, just outside of the Mustangs' football stadium when the skinny kid with freckles walked up and said hello to his future.
Word spread quickly to those looking on, "There may be the next quarterback of the Crimson Tide, the one from nearly Southlake who hadn't lost a game since eighth grade." There may have even been a few Opie references as well.
"I just remember being very taken back at the situation," Greg McElroy remembers from attending that practice for the 2006 Cotton Bowl. "Just wanting to go to Alabama through the entire process but also keeping it close to the vest because being a Texas kid you have to be respectful of the state schools.
"I just remember being so proud being part of that, going to that game and going the practice and being recruited by Alabama was such a great experience."
A couple of days later, Brodie Croyle led Alabama on a 10-play, 58-yard drive to put the Crimson Tide within field-goal range, and Jamie Christensen booted a knuckleball 45-yard field goal with no time remaining (even he called it "ugly") to beat Texas Tech 13-10.
"Coming to Alabama, that's what you dream of: Your last game, in the Cotton Bowl, you got two minutes to go score," Croyle said before heading off to the National Football League.
Little did he know it, but the quarterback who would blow those dreams away was there watching, with Texas Tech the other school vying for his services. Alabama finally offered a scholarship and after visiting the Capstone he accepted roughly two weeks later when Mike Shula made his official visit.
"I've always been a big fan of their school and I'm proud to have the chance to be a part of it," McElroy said at that time. "I'm looking forward to going there and creating a legacy of our own and adding a couple of more national championships."
Imagine what McElroy then would have thought if he knew how things would turn out. Shula fired, Nick Saban hired and two years later he would finally take the reigns as the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback. But what a season it was, winning a national title, MVP of the SEC Championship Game (beating Tim Tebow in the process), and playing alongside Alabama's first Heisman Trophy winner.
"I signed up here to win football games," McElroy said. "Whether that was to win seven games, thirteen games our first two years here, whether to win the national championship, whether it was to win the SEC Championship, I just wanted to win football games. Really, I signed up with the anticipation of hopefully someday having to play for the national championship, but also realizing that would be a dream come true and also be very difficult to get there.
"The fact that it was able to materialize was such a great experience last year."
Obviously the Crimson Tide hasn't quite duplicated that this season as McElroy finally took a loss after 19 straight wins, three short of Jay Barker's school-best 22 to start a career. Yet when his final pass is thrown his name will be all over the Crimson Tide record book in numerous ways, and not just for having more than 5,000 yards of total offense.
Like from Oct. 23 at Tennessee, where he helped Julio Jones set the Alabama single-game mark for receiving yards with 221.
"During camp we were roommates and started building our chemistry there, more so than last year," Jones said. "All the time we communicated. During summer and camp, going out, doing seven-on-seven, just communicating, trying to get on the same page, telling him what I see and what he sees so we're on the same page.
"If a guy's on me, and he's playing on the inside, Greg wants to go back shoulder, but I'm thinking over the top, you can't be like that. It's getting a lot better, but we're never satisfied."
That also helps explain McElroy's success in the classroom, where he's had just one B in college and named to some of most prestigious honor societies. He's a finalist for the William Campbell Trophy, which is considered the academic Heisman, has applied to be a Rhodes Scholar and is being considered for Sports Illustrated's highest honor, the Sportsman of the Year.
No wonder offensive coordinator Jim McElwain recently joked about studying game film with his quarterback: "Trying to explain something to a Rhodes Scholar? A guy from Montana? Are you kidding me?"
Sometime in the very near future, McElroy too will be playing in his last game for the Crimson Tide, and prior to kickoff against Auburn will be one of the few players honored on Senior Day, along with his former roommates David Ross and Preston Dial. James Carpenter, Brian Motley, Earl Alexander, Luther Davis and Chavis Williams will be among those saying goodbye as well.
"It goes by so fast," McElroy said. "John Parker (Wilson) told me before he left that 'It'll be gone before you know it.' I'm just trying to make the best of every opportunity we have. I'm think I'm doing that, I'm enjoying my last year and trying to make a lot of great memories that I'll enjoy for years."
So here are some of the ones he'll remember most.
Best moment: "Definitely winning the national championship."
Best game: "Florida. Getting that revenge and being my first year as a starter it was probably the most gratifying game."
Best moment in a game: "Probably against Auburn (2008), my touchdown pass to (Marquis) Maze to put us up 36-0 was one of the better moments that I've ever experienced. Definitely a moment I hadn't gone into the game anticipating having an opportunity to do."
Which only leaves one final thing, that legacy McElroy talked of before arriving and wanted to create. It's nearly complete.
"I want people to remember me as just a teammate," he said. "I want them to remember me as caring for the team, caring about winning, putting all individual accomplishment aside and just worrying about success of the football team. If people remember me as a winner, and people remember me as doing everything I possibly can to help the program succeed and the university succeed, then I'll have done my job here.
"Quite frankly, Alabama owes me thing. I owe everything to Alabama, and the opportunity to play here definitely shaped my life in a way I never could have imagined."