Joe Medley: Emerging star McCarron should take legacy snap from center Jones
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Jan 08, 2013 | 6557 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron (10) and center Barrett Jones (75) talk on the field in the fourth quarter of Monday's BCS championship game. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron (10) and center Barrett Jones (75) talk on the field in the fourth quarter of Monday's BCS championship game. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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MIAMI — Alabama no longer has a “game manager” for a quarterback. It has a two-time champion with the whole picture, including a girlfriend with 130,000 new Twitter followers and her admirers from the broadcast booth.

Yes, AJ McCarron has taken on stardom dimensions more quickly than former Tider Joe Namath can wag a finger, but there’s a catch.

McCarron still has a year of college football to play and a legacy to finish, and he should take legacy building like a snap from the center he barked at on national television Monday night.

Enjoy life as the temporary player face of college football’s new dynasty, AJ. Enjoy gazing into the face of a former Miss Alabama, too, but never forget the round face of center Barrett Jones.

Jones HAS started on three national championship teams at Alabama and did it at three different positions, including center in Alabama’s 42-14 thrashing of Notre Dame in Monday’s Bowl Championship Series final.

Jones DID play against Notre Dame and All-American nose tackle Louis Nix with, we now know, torn ligaments in his left foot.

Jones DID lead the way for one last night of dominance from an offensive line that, more than any other position group, paved the way for that third national championship in four years, say nothing of a stalwart running game that was a key in all three.

Oh, and Jones HAS won major college football and scholar-athlete awards, so take a snap from the old center, AJ. Jones has the legacy you’re seeking. It just comes with more trappings for the quarterback.

While we’re on the trappings, never mind Brent Musburger, AJ. You’re looking a lot more live than he these days, and your head coach would hate the focus issues he showed Monday night.

Keep the focus on the chance to become that college quarterback that won three major national titles, let alone consecutively.

Also, take a snap from the guy who did so much to keep you upright so you can throw 30 touchdown passes in 14 games this season. When it comes to championship leadership, they’re just aren’t many like Barrett Jones.

“Well, I don't think that I’ve ever coached a person, a guy that was a better person,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Tuesday. “I don't know one person that doesn’t like him and respect him, but so willing to serve other people, give his time up to go to Haiti or whatever it is.

“(Jones is) as fine a human being as I’ve ever been around. Actually makes you wonder, sometimes, even as a coach who’s trying to set a good example for the players, should I be more like him?”

Now, that’s the ultimate recommendation and the ultimate cue for McCarron, the guy most clearly in line to assume leadership of a team already projected No. 1 for the 2013 season.

McCarron certainly deserves his leadership position. His quarterbacking wasn’t just incidental to Alabama’s victories over LSU and Notre Dame in the past two BCS finals. It meant everything.

In two BCS finals, McCarron has completed 43 of 62 passes for 498 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. That makes a passer rating of 158.12.

Monday night, McCarron posted a passer rating of 197.8, going 20-for-28 for 264 yards and four touchdowns. He would have passed for 300-plus yards, but for two Amari Cooper drops and one from Christion Jones.

Meanwhile, the nation was falling in love with McCarron’s girlfriend, Katherine Webb. A blowout game sent the broadcast crew looking for other subjects, and Musburger fixated on Webb.

It won Musburger a resounding “ick” from the public and won Webb all of those new Twitter followers. Search AJ McCarron under YouTube.com, and “aj mccarron girlfriend” lists first.

Then came that fourth-quarter flare-up between McCarron and Jones. Signals got crossed then McCarron called time-out and got in Jones’ grill.

The burly Jones, who spent his night pushing the 326-pound Nix around, gave his quarterback a comparatively gentle shove.

McCarron is known as a fiery guy. He and Jones are friends and roommates. It’s been cute to hear them joke about their jousts and chatty huddles.

Things got back to good between them quickly Monday. McCarron walked to Jones on Alabama’s bench, and the two embraced.

Immediately after their on-field flash, Saban let out a few choice words from the sideline. Speaking Tuesday morning, the coach saw positives.

“You watch him and Barrett in the fourth quarter with five minutes to go in the game,” Saban said. “You can see what kind of competitors they both are, the kind of respect for each other, and the kind of standard of excellence they’re trying to play to.

“We’re always trying to get players to play for 60 minutes and be the best that they can be and not worry about the scoreboard, and I think their reaction to each other was an indication that they’re still out there competing and playing like you’d like for them to.”

It was all part of a big night for McCarron, a night that will no doubt vault him forward into his final year at Alabama with more star power and respect for what he has done on the field. Saban went so far as to say McCarron “can be a really good player, maybe the best quarterback in the country next year.”

That’s a mouthful, with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel still in the picture, but think about the mind-boggling opportunity that lies ahead for McCarron to win his third national title in a row.

A lot of it will come down to how McCarron leads his team, and Jones wrote the book. Through consistent performance, playing seven quarters of two championship-stakes games with a surgical injury and that gentle shove, the center gave his quarterback a snap example.

“I just can’t remember a player that personally, academically and athletically has ever contributed more than Barrett Jones from a leadership standpoint, from a character standpoint, from how he represents the university, the program, the organization, his family, himself,” Saban said. “I mean, you’re talking about a first-class guy.

“If I was a CEO, I would be trying to hire the guy.”

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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