- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- AJ McCarron has turned into a bit of an elusive figure on the University of Alabama campus. He's everywhere to be seen and nowhere to be reached.
"I've seen him around," said early enrollee Parker McLeod, one of three freshman quarterbacks Alabama welcomed in January. "I haven't really gotten a chance to talk to him. He's been busy."
Winning back-to-back national championships and developing into one of college football's best quarterbacks will do that. Publicly dating a supermodel pushes McCarron well into the threshold of celebrity, past the occasional television spot into the realm of obscure media reports on his parking habits.
Cooper Bateman, the former No. 3-ranked passer in the 2013 class, said he hasn't had the opportunity to talk with McCarron much since arriving on campus. When he did, he got a taste of what it was like to be the quarterback at Alabama.
"AJ's on a whole other level," Bateman explained. "He's a celebrity around here.
"But I had the chance during the [championship celebration] parade, we were walking down University and everyone, I mean everyone, is yelling his name over everything. I just asked him if he ever gets used to it. And he said, 'If you have the opportunity you're going to love it. It's the best four or five years of his life.' "
Alabama head coach Nick Saban told Bateman what it would be like to be the quarterback of the Crimson Tide -- on the field.
"When Saban recruited me from the very start, he said we're looking for someone to come in here, learn the offense, know it inside and out so you can manage the game out there on the field," Bateman said. "When you get out there, you don't even need coaches, because you're so well prepared and knowing what you need to do out there."
Bateman, McLeod and preferred walk-on Luke Del Rio might have to wait a few more weeks to get an audience with McCarron, but the time is coming. Spring practice is right around the corner.
McLeod, a former three-star prospect from Georgia, said he's anxious to begin learning under the All-American and All-SEC quarterback.
"He's an outstanding quarterback, one of the best in the country," McLeod said of McCarron. "So I'm really looking forward to spring practice to pick his mind a little bit."
While the young quarterbacks begin forming a relationship with McCarron, they can fall back on the one they've already developed with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier. The second-year coordinator recruited all three quarterbacks and became an integral part of why they chose to come to Alabama.
"I got to know him well," McLeod explained. "He's one of the main reasons I came here. We spent a lot of time researching the coaches. I felt comfortable with him. My parents felt comfortable with him. I'm really excited to go to work for him for the next four years."
It's easy to see why McLeod could look at Nussmeier's resume and come away impressed. McCarron's game hit another gear under Nussmeier in 2012, throwing nearly two times as many touchdowns while tacking on more than 30 points to his quarterback efficiency. That's not to mention the quarterbacks Nussmeier has tutored before: Jake Locker, Drew Stanton and Marc Bulger.
"He's an easy coach; he's a players coach," said Bateman, who has known Nussemeier dating back to his time as Washington's offensive coordinator. "You can talk to him whenever you want. Things have changed a little bit, of course. Now I'm here and he's my coach. So I'm seeing that side of him now. But he's still a great guy. And I wouldn't change a thing."
Nussmeier will have his hands full bringing along three true freshmen this spring. Together with redshirt freshman Alec Morris and last year's backups Blake Sims and Phillip Ely, a leader must emerge. Head coach Nick Saban doesn't want to wait a year to find McCarron's successor at quarterback. He wants to know who he is now.
McCarron, when he does have time to talk with the other quarterbacks, will play a part in that as well.
“I think it’s critical that some player that we have, either in the organization now or that we just recruited can develop into a potential starter for when AJ graduates," Saban said. "AJ’s done a great job here for us. He provides good leadership and I’m sure he’ll help the development of these guys by the way he prepares and how he practices, and he’s always been really helpful in trying to help other people develop at his position."
3dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough