It was a singular moment which sealed their immediate futures once their signatures dried and their national letters of intent were faxed off and received by their respective post-secondary institutions.
McCain, a prized defensive back, chose Conference USA’s University of Memphis. Big defensive tackle Allan Carson stayed with Tennessee, whom he committed to back in the summer and McElroy, a kicker, is headed north to Minnesota where he’ll attend Rochester Community and Technical College.
The trio didn’t always have hopes of one day playing college football growing up. That’s an anomaly of sorts in the football crazed state of Alabama.
“These guys are examples that you shouldn’t be afraid to set high goals,” Grass said. “Any goal can be achieved if you set it and work hard toward achieving it.”
Carson committed to Tennessee, the first school that offered him back in July after someone saw the 6-foot-1, 325-pounder walking at Oxford Lake and asked him if he played football. Once he replied, ‘Yes, ’ the stranger proceeded to ask him if he had any college options.
There was Illinois and Kentucky, both of which were willing to pay for his college education but Carson told the questioner it didn’t matter because he was going to Tennessee. Soon after, he called up the Volunteers coaching staff and gave them the verbal pledge he fulfilled Wednesday.
It was a different way to come to a life-altering decision but such was Carson’s route to the upper echelon of college football recruits. Three seasons ago, he arrived at Class 6A Oxford as a transfer from Sacred Heart, having never played football.
“I looked at him and told him, ‘Son, you can play college football,’” Grass said. “He was a 300-plus pound basketball player. That was his sport. He’d never lifted a weight.”
Carson got exponentially better after each of his three seasons at Oxford.
He said he only began to think he could possibly play college football at the end of his junior season.
“Just being a student of the game,” Carson said, when asked what he attributed his development to. “You’ve got to think, eat and dream football.”
As a senior, he made the Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 6A all-state team after posting 73 tackles, including 18 for loss and six sacks.
“It’s a total different level once you get to college ball,” Carson said “Then, it’s another level when you get into the SEC. Everything’s got to step up.”
McCain stared the opportunity to play SEC ball in the face and turned it down.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder selected Memphis despite holding a handful of offers from schools in college football’s premiere conference, including national champions Auburn, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
The option to also play baseball loomed large in the decision for McCain, who also stars on the diamond for the Yellow Jackets. Last spring, he was named to The Star’s Diamond Dazzlers squad, a team comprised of the top players in the paper’s coverage area regardless of position or classification. He was also chosen to play in the annual North-South game at the AHSAA All-Sports Week this past summer.
“I’m not ready to shut the door on baseball and I’m not ready to shut the door on football,” McCain said. “I love playing both sports. That’s what I wanted to do.”
McCain didn’t come into his own on the gridiron until after his sophomore season on the gridiron,” Grass said. “He emerged as a national level recruit after a series of sterling performances on the summer camp circuit.”
He was Oxford’s go-go-gadget football player, doing whatever the Yellow Jackets needed whenever they needed it this past season.
He was a shutdown corner on defense. He finished the season with just one pick and 35 tackles as opposing quarterbacks rarely threw the ball his way.
On offense, he carried the ball 28 times for 212 yards and six touchdowns and caught 28 receptions for 325 yards and three scores as a wide receiver. He even completed 10 of 21 passing attempts for 221 yards, starting two games as a backup to starter Jackson Stephens.
McCain said Memphis coaches told him they plan on starting him out at defensive back and he should have an opportunity to compete for a starting job at corner.
He took official visits to Memphis and Tennessee, entertaining the idea of teaming up with Carson, one of his best buds, again before ultimately deciding to make Memphis his home for the next four years last Wednesday.
“It feels like home up there and not so much like a business even though it is,” McCain said. “The fact that I get to play baseball and football was key for me.”
McElroy may have had the toughest task of any of the three that signed, coming into his junior season. He had the unenviable task of replacing former Oxford and current Wake Forest kicker Jimmy Newman, a player John Grass described as the best he’s ever seen at the position at the high school level.
So he worked. McElroy began as a soccer player, working out and kicking footballs every Saturday for a year.
In two years, he worked himself into a player that didn’t have to go and seek colleges but one that was sought out.
“They found me,” he said.
Now, he’s plans to take his game to the upper Midwest with the hopes of one day returning down south to continue his career.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I want to go up there, work hard and do what I’m supposed to do for two years and come back and play somewhere for two more years, maybe hopefully somewhere closer.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.