AJ McCarron grew up to be what every little boy in Alabama is supposed to grow up to be.
And he may have surpassed all the others.
“Growing up with Alabama fans, the first thing you hear when they have a boy is ‘he’s going to be the quarterback at Alabama,’ ” McCarron, a native of Mobile, Ala., said Sunday. “It’s always kind of the thought process behind having a kid in Alabama.
“My dad said that a long time ago joking around. For all that to come true and for my parents to live their dreams through me is the cool part about the whole process.”
McCarron will complete not only one of the most distinguished quarterbacking careers in Crimson Tide history but in college football history when Alabama plays Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Thursday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
His 36 career wins are the most in Alabama history and seventh most in NCAA history, and he holds virtually every meaningful career passing record for the Tide.
He helped lead them to the last two BCS Championships and the Tide flirted with a record third straight before losing to Auburn in the regular-season finale
“I’ve had a lot of great teammates in my five years here and three years as a starter,” McCarron said. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the great guys around me. I owe everything to them.
“My name gets put up for a lot of things, but like I told them after the Maxwell Award, I tried to thank them as much as possible.”
McCarron won the Maxwell Award and finished second to Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
But the prototypical home-grown Alabama quarterback nearly became an export.
McCarron said he didn’t grow up dreaming of playing for Bama. Nebraska was the first college to offer him a scholarship while he was in high school, and he said he was planning to commit to Oklahoma.
The night before he was going to commit to the Sooners, he talked the decision over with his parents.
“They said they’d be happy either way,” he recalled, “but they wouldn’t be able to see me play all the time if I went to Oklahoma. The only way they could see me all the time was if I played for Alabama, so I did what was best for my family and it ended up working out. It’s been a special ride.”
Tide running back T.J. Yeldon was asked what it would have been like to play against McCarron in Thursday’s game, but he didn’t think that would have happened.
“If he was with Oklahoma,” Yeldon said, “they’d probably be playing for the championship.”
Bama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier inherited McCarron for two seasons when he was hired before the 2012 season.
“When I first got to Alabama, I turned on the film and just watched where he was at the start of his first season where he was kind of splitting time with Phillip Sims and then watched him evolve and play better and better every week into the national championship game,” Nussmeier said. “The way he played in that game spoke for itself.”
McCarron was named Offensive Most Valuable Player when the Tide beat LSU 21-0 to win the BCS title two years ago.
His overall numbers in the Tide’s pro-style offense haven’t been as big as those of many quarterbacks running more pass-happy offenses, but in his three seasons as a starter, he has thrown 72 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
McCarron said it would have been fun “if I played in some of these other guys’ offenses,” because he believes “I’d be putting up the same numbers as a lot of those guys.”
But McCarron said he’s “fine” with having more modest individual numbers.
“When my time comes at the next level, I’ll come out and prove myself,” he said, “and hopefully I’ll disappoint a lot of people that maybe passed over me.”
Wide receiver Amari Cooper said he expects McCarron’s legend to grow.
“I think when it boils down in the future,” Cooper said, “people will realize what he’s done, what he’s accomplished and give him credit for that.”