He doesn't have the strongest of arms. He's really not that quick. And when a play breaks down, he truthfully is not very good at improvising and turning a negative into a positive. So why, then, is Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy my nominee to be SI's Sportsman of the Year? Easy: More than any other player in the sport, he represents all that is good about college football.
Until the Tide's loss in October to South Carolina, McElroy hadn't lost a game as a starting quarterback since he was an 8th grader in Texas. What makes the 6-3, 220-pound senior so special on the field? "His poise," says Alabama coach Nick Saban. "I don't know if I've ever been around a smarter player. Nothing fazes him. The moment never gets too big for him. That calms down everyone around him. He was a big reason why we were able to go undefeated last season and win the national championship."
But it's off the field where McElroy is most impressive. He earned his marketing degree in three years with a 3.86 GPA. (His lone B grade, remarkably, was in leadership management.) He's now on pace to get his Masters in Sports Management in December and recently applied for a Rhodes Scholarship. And the day after leading Alabama to a 31-6 victory over Florida on Oct. 3, McElroy stayed at the athletic complex deep into the night, his face pressed close to a computer screen, putting the final touches on his Rhodes scholar application.
Back in the summer of 2009, a few weeks before McElroy started his first game at Alabama, we hung out in the school's football offices. I asked him if he had an inkling how much his life was about to change, given that he was on the verge of becoming the most recognizable athlete in the state. "I understand completely the passion people in Alabama have for this program, and I'm just going to try to live up to the tradition here," he said as he leaned back in a chair and put his feet up on a desk. "I know that we have the makings of a special team, and I understand that these could potentially be two of the greatest years of my life. I'm going to work my butt off, but I'm also going to try to enjoy this ride. Because it will be over before I know it. It deserves to be savored."
It's thoughtful statements like these that have helped make McElroy something of a cult hero in 'Bama. I live in Homewood, Al., which is just outside of Birmingham, and I frequently see a group of 11- and 12-year olds playing tackle football down the street from my house. The other day I asked one of the boys, who was wearing McElroy's number 12 jersey, what he liked most about the Tide's starting quarterback. The kid looked at me like I'd just posed the most inane question he'd ever heard.
"It's obvious," he replied as he threw the football to a friend. "Greg McElroy is a winner."
Indeed, in many ways.