The Associated Press
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Greg McElroy knows how to follow tough acts.
No. 5 Alabama's new starting quarterback succeeded Chase Daniel at his Texas prep powerhouse and marched the team to a state title. Now, the junior is taking over for the Crimson Tide's all-time leading passer, John Parker Wilson, on a team with national title aspirations.
"The fact that I played behind Chase has prepared me for this moment," McElroy said.
'Bama fans are banking on his readiness, particularly with his first start coming against No. 7 Virginia Tech on Sept. 5.
The affable redhead firmly claimed the job over Star Jackson and Thomas Darrah in spring practice and seems to have won the confidence of his teammates and coaches just as easily. Never mind that the fourth-year junior has attempted just 20 collegiate passes as Wilson's backup.
"We just feel like he's the man," receiver Mike McCoy said. "He's our Superman."
"Greg has stood out a lot to me," Tide tailback Roy Upchurch said. "He went, in my opinion, from just a regular quarterback to a quarterback that will wow you. I think he's more of a spread-around type of quarterback, that he'll get it to anybody who's open and get it out of his hands real fast. He's really opened my eyes this year."
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound McElroy has spent the offseason beefing up - bench-pressing a personal-best 370 pounds - to better withstand a season of hits, and hunkering down in the film room. He roomed with Colt McCoy of Texas and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford at the Manning Passing Academy, soaking up the atmosphere and the words of NFL stars Peyton and Eli Manning.
In the meantime, McElroy also managed to graduate over the summer. Instead of taking an easy course load and focusing on football for a semester he has started working toward a master's degree in sports management.
"While I'm here, I figured I might as well take full advantage of the university as well," he said. "I always prided myself on being an extremely good student."
He's had plenty of time to study football, biding his time for three years first behind Daniel and then Wilson. McElroy didn't start until his senior year at Southlake Carroll High School after Daniel, the 2004 national high school player of the year, left for Missouri.
He led the team to the Class 5A state title and threw a Texas-record 56 touchdown passes against nine interceptions. He has only thrown for one TD since then in mopup duty for Wilson. Coming against rival Auburn, that TD did help endear him to 'Bama fans.
"I've had a chance to study different types of quarterbacks," McElroy said. "That's really helped add to my game, maybe add a new dimension, maybe make me feel more confident in myself. I've learned a lot from those guys.
"I think there is a big sense of deja vu in the fact that I've played behind good guys before."
He's not playing behind anyone except 'Bama's offensive line now. But McElroy knows fans have little idea what to expect from him. The most extended view of him was a 189-yard, two-touchdown performance in the spring game.
He insists his only expectations are: "Just go out there and enjoy the situation and take every moment like it's my last. Just have fun with it."
McElroy said he had double-digit scholarship offers before starting a high school game, from such schools as North Carolina and Texas Tech. Coaches checking out Daniel had noticed his understudy, too.
McElroy caught the eye of then-Southlake coach Todd Dodge as a seventh-grader who devoted himself to the school's training program and didn't bother with other sports.
Dodge said he knew by McElroy's 10th-grade year that he would succeed Daniel.
"He just developed into a tremendously accurate quarterback," said Dodge, now head coach at North Texas. "He threw the deep ball really well."
Another quality that impressed him: Patience.
"It seems like nowadays if someone doesn't get instant gratification or instant playing time they're looking to transfer," Dodge said. "It even happens at the high school level sometimes. Greg was one of those guys who stuck it out and waited his turn, and that's kind of what he's done at Alabama. He's a very intelligent young man. I think he's going to do great."
McElroy also embraces his role as the BMOC in a town that largely revolves around Tide football. His girlfriend teases him when fans approach him in restaurants or wherever, crowing: "You're changing."
McElroy says that won't happen.
"I'm blessed to have the position that I have," he said. "I thank my hard work and God and everything like that every day for having this opportunity. It's been a real joy to play football here. You won't see me changing as far as how I handle myself. I refuse to let it happen."
McElroy is already one of the guys.
"Everybody likes to go out with him and have agood time," McCoy said. "He invites us to his house. We all hang out. We all have fun with him. He's very outgoing. He'll talk to anybody."