One by one they lined up, patiently waiting their time to shake hands, get an autograph and take a photo with former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. Each person received a greeting and a warm smile from the former St. Paul’s all-state football and baseball player and McCarron seemed to be having as much fun as those who had come to The Hank to see him.
“I can always remember my time growing up. I remember going to see (former NBA all-star) Allen Iverson – [the Philadelphia 76ers] played down in New Orleans and Allen Iverson was my favorite player when I was growing up. I stood outside in the garage and waited on him. He came by and told me ‘No autographs.’ I always try to remember that moment and never let a younger kid have that moment in his life.”
No one was turned away Friday night as McCarron took part in a meet-and-greet with fans and threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the first of a three-game series between Alabama and Lipscomb. His brother Corey, who showed up after the pitch, jabbed at McCarron, saying he heard the throw missed the strike zone. “It was a strike,” AJ protested. “I painted the outside corner.”
A strike or a ball, McCarron, without benefit of any warm-up pitches, delivered the throw with effortless ease, which is important. McCarron was forced to the Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline most of last season – his first in the NFL – because of a shoulder injury in his right throwing arm. He started the year on the reserve/non-football injury list. He wasn’t cleared to practice until Nov. 19 and wasn’t placed on the active roster until Dec. 9.
Like those who waited to visit with him Friday night, McCarron displayed patience, and he continues to do so as he trains for the upcoming season. Former TCU star Andy Dalton is the Bengals’ starting quarterback and former Auburn standout Jason Campbell is the team’s backup. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis made it clear recently there is no quarterback race or controversy, that Dalton is the starter, and McCarron said that’s the way it should be.
“I don’t know about the future. I just know I’m trying to work and I’m finally healthy,” he said. “I know I’m better now than I’ve ever been arm-wise. I’m just excited to get back playing football and showing the coaches what I can do. They have yet to really see me healthy the whole time, especially my teammates. I’m just ready to get back to work and get back up to Cincinnati and get to work.
“It’s always different because I’ve started so many games, but I sat for two years (at Alabama) before I ever got to play behind Greg (McElroy). It’s just a role you have to go through; you have to wait your time. (Green Bay Packers quarterback) Aaron Rodgers sat for four years. It’s part of the process. I’d rather sit there and learn rather than playing on a team and getting my brains beat in and losing every game and having to learn that way.”
In an effort to make progress and keep his shoulder healthy, McCarron and his long-time coach David Morris, the former Ole Miss player who created QB Country, a training facility for quarterbacks, recently traveled to California to visit with Tom House, who helps quarterbacks and baseball players with proper throwing mechanics.
“Mr. Tom is one of the smartest individuals I’ve ever been around when it comes to mechanics and knowing the throwing motion,” McCarron said. “They worked with me for a week and it has helped my mechanics and I’m excited to get back and throw the football.
“I just want to stay consistent and keep working on my mechanics. That was the biggest thing for me when I was (in California), learning a new way. It’s hard to do that in one week, but I was able to achieve that. That hardest thing is being able to keep the new way without them being there every day and reverting back to your old ways. That’s why I flew David Morris out there with me so he could watch everything and film it, so when I come back I’m not just relying on myself to remember what all they taught me and he can help me through the process.”
McCarron said House’s teachings go against what most quarterbacks are taught growing up as to the proper way to throw.
“He’s coached some of the best – Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Mark Prior – some of the best pitchers of all time. I’ve really learned a lot from him.”
While he supports Dalton as the Bengals’ starter, McCarron – who won the Maxwell Award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award his senior season at Alabama – is working each day to prepare himself to move into the No. 2 spot and to be ready to play when and if the opportunity arrives.
“My job is to support Andy. He’s the starting quarterback and he’s one of my good friends. I look up to him and he’s like a big brother. I always text him and remind him how much he helped me through my first year and I never want any controversy. I want us both to go out and compete and try to make each other better. It’s my job to support him and try to help him in whatever way I can. Good comments from coach (Marvin Lewis) are very exciting, but Andy’s still the starter and I’m looking forward to working my way and hopefully getting there one day.”
The offseason has allowed McCarron the opportunity to work on his game – he gets in a practice session most every day, he said – as well as spends time with family and friends here in Mobile. He said he and his wife, Katherine Webb, have built a house in Mobile during the offseason. McCarron has also found time to assist with several charities and other organizations. He spoke to the Baker High School football team and Friday night, taped messages for the Children’s Miracle Network and spent time with young patients at area hospitals.
Again, he is pushed into taking on such projects, McCarron said, based on things he has encountered in his own life.
“That’s what means the most to me. If people don’t help those kids and those organizations and all the hospitals, that hurts the kids in the end,” he said. “I was one of those kids at a point in my life back in the day. I know how much they need it and how much people donating and always putting their name out there in public will help those kids in the long run. My mom (Dee Dee McCarron) has done a great job of teaching me throughout my life the right ways and it’s really paid off. Me and my wife and my family, we love giving back because we’ve been so blessed and it’s nice to bless others.”