Sports

January 4, 2013

Alabama’s AJ McCarron is living a dream

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron nearly went to Miami. Instead, he stayed home and has become a star with the moxie to go with it.

Playing quarterback for the University of Alabama doesn’t lack for perks.

Sure, there’s gobs of pressure.

But AJ McCarron also gets more face time on cable TV than Dr. Drew. He dates his football-crazy state’s reigning beauty queen.

And during news conferences at the BCS National Championship Game, he sits at the big table.

McCarron, the coolly efficient triggerman for the second-ranked Crimson Tide, met the media Thursday, holding court for some 45 minutes ahead of Monday’s much-anticipated title game against undefeated Notre Dame.

It will be his first visit to Sun Life Stadium as a collegian. But as McCarron let slip to the assembled reporters Thursday, he was this close to playing there on a full-time basis.

“I grew up a big Miami Hurricanes fan,” said McCarron, who was a four-star recruit at St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile.

“Whenever you’re a little kid, the team that’s winning the most is probably your favorite. They had one of my favorite players of all time, Ken Dorsey. They ended up being in my top three with Alabama and Oklahoma right before I decided [on where to go to college].”

Ultimately, McCarron stayed in-state, and the move worked out pretty well for him.

He plays just three hours from home. And he’s as close to a superstar a kid his age can get without being a Bieber.

Since taking over the Alabama starting job last season, all McCarron has done is win 24 of 26 games, including the 2012 BCS title game.

In a remarkable coincidence, McCarron has completed exactly 66.8 percent of his passes in each of the past two seasons. This year, his 26-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio has translated into a sparkling 173.1 quarterback rating, second nationally to Georgia’s Aaron Murray.

“AJ’s ceiling is so high,” said Doug Nussmeier, Alabama’s first-year offensive coordinator. “I feel like he’s just starting to scratch the surface of where he’s going to go as a player.”

If McCarron had chosen Miami over Alabama and Oklahoma, he would have the swagger part down. But it’s no secret in college football circles that McCarron lives and plays with a bit of an edge.

When asked about his first impressions of Nussmeier — with the coach sitting three feet to his right — McCarron said, “I was kind of let down I had to work with him,” before assuring everyone present that he was kidding.

McCarron squirms when reminded of his national reputation as a game manager.

And when queried about his playfully antagonistic relationship with Alabama’s super center, Barrett Jones, McCarron said what Jones hates the most is being proven wrong. Does that happen often?

“It does. Every practice,” McCarron said.

That’s the kind of confidence one needs to date Miss Alabama — especially if she attended your hated rival school.

Beauty queen Katherine Webb, an Auburn alum, announced on Twitter on Christmas Eve that she and McCarron were an item. Webb has a much-coveted ticket to Monday’s game and drove down to Miami with his family.

But for McCarron, life hasn’t always been so charmed. When he was just 5 years old, he was cruising Mobile’s Dog River on a WaveRunner with his dad, Tony, when his life changed forever.

Little AJ, being a kid, accidentally gunned the engine when he wanted instead to slow the watercraft down. The force threw McCarron face-first into a wooden pier. Doctors didn’t think he would live. Brain damage was all but assured.

But McCarron not only survived, but also he miraculously sustained no significant lasting damage.

“I think me and my mom [Dee Dee Bonner] kind of promised each other since I got that second chance that we’d take full advantage of it and try to make all my dreams come true that are possible,” McCarron said.

With a beautiful girlfriend, a national championship and another one just 60 minutes away, McCarron has done just that.

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