QB McCarron carries dad’s loving words

When AJ McCarron got off Alabama’s team bus for Saturday afternoon’s game against Penn State, his father, Tony McCarron, was waiting with a letter.

The elder McCarron admittedly doesn’t know much about football, but he’s been giving handwritten notes to his son before his games since he started playing the sport at the age of 4.

The younger McCarron grabbed the letter from his father and walked to the locker room. Once inside, the redshirt sophomore quarterback read it.

“AJ, I love you,” the letter began. “I’m so proud of you no matter whether you win or lose. Nothing will change that …”

The note also included a list of 10 things that McCarron needed to do.

“Be a leader and lead by example, be aggressive, but be patient, make your throws count, make every handoff count …”

After reading the letter, McCarron folded it up and took the field before 107,846 rowdy fans at Beaver Stadium in his first career road start.

Nearly three-and-half hours later, McCarron had completed his father’s checklist during third-ranked Alabama’s yawner 27-11 victory against No. 23 Penn State. He was an efficient 19-of-31 passing for 163 yards with a touchdown and, most important to demanding Alabama coach Nick Saban, McCarron didn’t commit a turnover.

Of course, the always-cryptic Saban wouldn’t say after the game who his starting quarterback is, but McCarron settled the quarterback “controversy” between himself and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims, who didn’t play.

“He did a good job today,” Saban said of McCarron.

While that doesn’t sound like much, that’s actually high praise from Saban. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound McCarron wasn’t anything spectacular, not that he needs to be the second coming of Joe Namath for this Alabama team.

One with a stingy defense that forced three turnovers, star tailback Trent Richardson, who had 111 rushing yards and a touchdown, and a cast of anonymous, but dependable, receivers.

McCarron knows that all he has to be is a game manager. He watched his predecessor, genius Greg McElroy, be just that and win a national championship in 2009.

“I’ve learned a lot sitting behind him,” McCarron said.

McCarron’s most impressive play Saturday was his 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Michael Williams in the first quarter that he snaked in the end zone between Penn State defenders for a 7-3 lead. Otherwise, his longest completion of the game was for 29 yards.

Surrounded by reporters after the game, McCarron also did his best to manage expectations. He didn’t declare himself as Alabama’s starting quarterback.

Instead, he even tried play down his workman-like performance.

“I’ve been playing football since I was 4,” McCarron said. “It’s just another day.”

McCarron said what Saban wants from his starting quarterback. He talked about not forcing passes, checking the ball down to receivers and taking what the defense gives him.

“I’m just doing what Coach says,” McCarron said.

McCarron also preached Saban’s creed of not committing turnovers. With good reason, because he threw two interceptions last week in his team’s season-opening blowout of Kent State, a game in which Sims played and also threw two picks.

“I think he played a lot better today,” Saban said of McCarron. “I thought he was a lot more confident.”

But Saban stressed that McCarron still needs even more confidence and harped on the quarterback to take what the defense gives him. Ever the perfectionist, Saban also gave a blueprint for his young quarterback to follow.

“The leadership, the confidence, getting us in the right plays, making the right choices and decisions and distributing the ball,” Saban replied when asked about what makes his ideal quarterback.

After Saturday’s win, McCarron ran to the northeast corner of the end zone to celebrate with his proud father, who wore a crimson Alabama polo shirt that on the back read, “Dad of No. 10”, and a cousin also in the stands.

“You played outstanding,” the elder McCarron told his son. “It’s exactly what they wanted.”

With that, McCarron leaned down over the railing and kissed his son’s sweaty head. The younger McCarron started to head back to his team’s locker room, but not before his father had a few more words for him.

“I love you,” the elder McCarron yelled.

The younger McCarron turned back and smiled. He had carried that love with him during the game.

Because, like he always does, he had played with his father’s letter in one of his socks.