TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The ability to lead has never escaped AJ McCarron on the football field. He has always understood that having the ball in his hands on every play meant something. It meant he had to lead.
"It's part of the position, so I'm used to it," McCarron said Saturday after the first spring practice. "I've been playing the position since I was 4, so there's not much different to it."
The front yard, the high school football field, Bryant-Denny Stadium -- they're all the same to the rising senior. McCarron has played in Cowboys Stadium, the Superdome in New Orleans and knocked helmets in Florida's Sun Life Stadium, home to his boyhood favorite Miami Hurricanes. At each stop, the strong-armed and full-throated signal-caller has been successful. He already has won two national championships as a starter, and he finished last season as the country's top quarterback in terms of passing efficiency. A run at the Heisman Trophy in 2013 isn't out of the question, considering all the talent he'll have at receiver.
But talk of awards is premature. For now, he has one job to focus on, and that's taking ownership of a team made younger this spring by the departures of nine scholarship seniors and three underclassmen. When asked about his individual goals for the offseason he rebuffed the idea -- he doesn't believe in them.
"I'm here to win," he said. "I want to win as a team."
McCarron has never shied away from his leadership position with the Crimson Tide, but this year will be different. This time around, he's being asked to do even more.
"I have to try to get the best out of everybody around, not just my position with the younger guys and trying to bring them along the way, but as a whole offense all the way around and even the defensive players," McCarron said. "It's my job to be more of a team leader this year rather than last year as just the offensive leader."
Said Saban: "AJ's leadership is critical to our team. AJ has the capabilities of being a good leader and he has to assert himself as that and impact and affect other people by the example he sets."
McCarron is now the elder statesman at Alabama. He told reporters Saturday he feels like he has been in Tuscaloosa for 15 years. He made it hard for them to keep from laughing as he wore an icepack around his throwing shoulder and spoke about how he played much of last season with dislocated ribs. An old 22-year-old to be sure. The freshmen and early enrollees running around him during practice further illustrated the age gap.
"Watching younger guys run makes me feel that much older," he said.
McCarron is one of three starters remaining from Alabama's star-studded 2009 signing class, a group that featured Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack, many of whom have been gone for more than a year now.
With leaders like Barrett Jones and Nico Johnson also off to the NFL, the responsibility of speaking for a team and a university falls largely on McCarron's shoulders. In fact, he has become almost a conduit for Saban's message, speaking up about Alabama's troubled offseason.
"You just have to be accountable for your job on and off the field," he said. "We're getting an education at the same time, to do the right things not only because we represent this team and this university, but our last name, our families. We're not here to make anybody look bad, so we have to be a man. You're on your own, you have to held accountable."
Given McCarron's tenure and status within the locker room, there's no better person to deliver the message. He's not only leading the quarterbacks or the offense now, he's leading an entire program.
"I think the players like AJ," Saban said. "I think they respect AJ and I think the more he does things the right way, the more he's going to be able to affect other people. He's always done a good job of that and I've been pleased with that in the past. I can't see any reason why it wouldn't be a real positive for him in the future."