Throwing the route tree, perfecting the different handoff motions, McElroy was ready for the home stretch of his Crimson Tide football career.
More importantly, there was again life in the eyes peeking out from the helmet that couldn’t do much to help McElroy three weeks ago.
Blindsided and body slammed by Auburn’s T’Sharvan Bell who perfectly timed the snap thanks to the draining play clock, McElroy was left on the cold Bryant-Denny Stadium turf with a dazed look, a bleeding nose and a concussion.
Considering he’d interviewed as a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship just days earlier, there was a certain irony to ending his final home game with a bruised brain.
But that’s just the reality for the senior who had a record-breaking performance end in injury and a bitter defeat. Taking the practice field for the first time since the Nov. 26 injury in preparation for the Jan. Capital One Bowl with Michigan State, the side effects were long gone.
In its wake, McElroy faced three to four days of lingering symptoms. He thought he’d suffered a few concussions in the past, but his experience following the Iron Bowl changed his mind.
“As far as the headaches and the nausea and the confusion, I never really had any of those symptoms,” McElroy said. “I always felt, for a lack of a better term, I didn’t feel sharp for a couple days following a concussion.”
The edge left him immediately after hitting the ground against Auburn.
On the sideline, he asked Mark Ingram what happened since the short-term memory was non-existent. Looking back on it now, he remembers dropping back “and losing my train of thought.”
Just then, Bell’s unimpeded path ended at McElroy who he slung to the ground with the left side of his head landing first.
“The next thing I know, I’m kind of staggering to the sideline,” he said. “It was a real scary moment for me because I felt like I was incapacitated to a certain extent. I was understanding. I was totally willing to do the tests and all those things. It was just one of those scary instances when for a short period of time, I wasn’t sure what was going on.”
Ingram backs up his quarterback’s story.
“He was out of it,” Ingram said. “He just didn’t remember what happened … at all. I knew something was wrong.”
Concussion or not, McElroy’s competitive motor never stopped running. After the Tide got the ball back for the final shot at salvaging the game, the fifth-year senior wanted to get back in the game.
“I was trying my hardest to get back out there, but they hid my helmet,” he said.
Instead, backup AJ McCarron took the four snaps that produced four incomplete passes and preserved Auburn’s 28-27 comeback win.
On the sideline, McElroy was stirring with little control over the outcome.
He checked out fine after the game before going through a few trying days in which he said he didn’t feel like himself.
The simple things became close to impossible.
“I often times will be in the middle of a conversation and completely lose my train of thought or draw a blank on a word that I was able to find,” McElroy said. “It was just a very confusing feeling and a very difficult feeling because I feel I’m able to express myself through my words at a higher level than I feel like a lot of people can. So having that confusion, I felt very disappointed.”
The side effects have long since faded.
Returning to the practice field was the final piece of the recovery process.
That came Thursday when normalcy returned to a long, sometimes confusing three weeks since a concussion ended his Iron Bowl.
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star.