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Greg McElroy returns to Southern California to train at 'Jets West' camp

Published: Friday, May 06, 2011, 4:45 AM

By Jenny Vrentas/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger




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David Ahntholz/For The Star-LedgerQuarterback Greg McElroy, a seventh-round pick last week, throws recently at "Jets West" camp.

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. — Greg McElroy has made the turn, off Chrisanta Drive into Mission Viejo High School, countless times before.

Since seventh grade, McElroy sought the tutelage of Bob Johnson, the football coach here and renowned quarterbacks guru. McElroy attended his camps first, and in the three months leading up to the NFL Draft, trained in Southern California in order to sharpen his skills with Johnson.

Then, last Saturday, a fortuitous call from the Jets united McElroy with star Johnson pupil Mark Sanchez — and had him on his way back to Mission Viejo to take part in the “Jets West” passing camp at Sanchez’s alma mater.

“I’ve spent a lot of time out here through the years, and I’ve been able to watch Mark, and follow his career,” said McElroy, the former Alabama quarterback drafted in the seventh round. “I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, but I was really happy and honored to get the Jets’ call.”

Johnson said the Jets didn’t call to inquire about McElroy before the draft, but he may have filled out a form on him, though he couldn’t remember for sure. But when McElroy returned to Johnson’s office, near the outdoor campus’ tennis courts, they kidded about him not needing directions.

McElroy also shared something somber with Johnson when he arrived, a phone call that instead brought the worst kind of news: A friend from college, Ashley Harrison, was among the more than 200 victims in last week’s deadly rash of tornadoes in Alabama.

Harrison, 22, dated one of McElroy’s college teammates, long snapper Carson Tinker. They were together in a house in Tuscaloosa, Ala., not far from the university campus, when a powerful tornado seized the building.

“They were in the closet, and the house just got ripped to shreds,” McElroy said. “They all got thrown in different directions. She ended up getting thrown against the tree, and he ended up in the water. He was very, very fortunate and lucky, but she passed away. It was terrible.”

Tinker was injured but has since been released from the hospital. McElroy, who spent 4 1/2 years in Tuscaloosa, was saddened by the destruction that has gripped the area.

“You never think it’s going to happen where you live or where you call home,” McElroy said. “There are a lot of people missing down there, so hopefully more and more people will turn up. But it’s not a good situation; anyone that can help should try to do their best to do so.”

With his alma mater on his mind, McElroy — a two-year college starter drafted as a young backup and possible future trade bait — headed west to join his new set of teammates. Veteran Mark Brunell routinely called out “Roll Tide” when McElroy passed by.

The rookie’s smarts, evidenced by his Wonderlic score and application to be a Rhodes Scholar, is the first attribute most mention. Johnson, whose pupils also include the Bengals’ Carson Palmer, said McElroy “learns (offense) as fast as anybody I’ve ever had.”

Sanchez, who organized the “Jets West” camp and leads the film sessions, has already noticed.

“He’s so sharp,” Sanchez said earlier this week. “He played in a lot of games, a national championship. That’s great to add to our quarterback room. He’s picking things up quickly in the classroom. It’ll be good competition for all of us.”

McElroy was “ecstatic” to land with the Jets. The ties are uncanny — to Sanchez, to Sanchez’s alma mater, even to Jets legend Joe Namath, whose number McElroy wore when he led Alabama to a national championship in 2009. That number, of course, has been retired by the Jets.

“Can’t wear No. 12,” McElroy said with a laugh. “I haven’t looked at the roster, but as long as it’s green and white, I’ll be happy.”

For more Jets coverage, follow Jenny Vrentas on Twitter at twitter.com/Jennyvrentas

Jenny Vrentas: jvrentas@starledger.com

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