Alabama's Jalen Milroe says he overcame naysayers including Bill O'Brien to lead the Tide to the CFP

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Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe waves during a welcome event at Disneyland on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif. Alabama is scheduled to play against Michigan on New Year's Day in the Rose Bowl, a semifinal in the College Football Playoff. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

LOS ANGELES – Jalen Milroe went to Alabama determined to become an elite SEC quarterback, and nothing could deter him from his goal.

Not even, he says, his own offensive coordinator.

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Milroe revealed Thursday that Bill O'Brien, Alabama's coordinator during Milroe's first two seasons in Tuscaloosa, once suggested he should change positions.

“How would you feel if somebody told you you suck?” Milroe asked. “The biggest thing for me — be true to myself and stay the same. Nothing changed about me. I had an opportunity, and I seized it. There’s a bunch of positions I could have switched to, but look where I am now. So who gets the last laugh?”

That would be Milroe, who went on to become Bryce Young's successor and a determined, highly competitive quarterback who has led the Crimson Tide all the way to the College Football Playoff. He has passed for 2,718 yards with 23 TD throws against just six interceptions — but more importantly to Milroe, Alabama is on an 11-game winning streak.

Milroe's resilience is the central theme of his college career, which began quietly behind Young. He won the Tide's starting job this year, only to lose it in a Week 3 benching.

After he reclaimed it a week later, the Tide went on a roll that hasn't always been pretty, but has resulted in an electrifying Iron Bowl win over Auburn, an SEC championship game upset of Georgia and a ticket to the Rose Bowl against unbeaten Michigan on Monday.

Milroe says he isn't a finished product, and he has ample room to improve. But after those back-to-back landmark victories, both the quarterback and his Tide teammates are confident Milroe's skills and resilience will give them a chance against the powerhouse Wolverines.

“I think the biggest thing was embracing hard,” Milroe said, echoing a phrase used by coach Nick Saban.

“For a quarterback to succeed in the SEC and to play at an elite level, you have to embrace hard, because there are a lot of uncertainties while you play the position, and you have to have the right, proper mindset," Milroe added. "The biggest thing is having the right mental approach to the games, the week and everything that goes on with being a starting quarterback, especially in the SEC. That’s the biggest thing, trying to learn as much as possible.”

Although Milroe prefers to pass, he’s an all-around athlete who can run aggressively and physically. Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter didn’t bite on comparisons to NFL star Lamar Jackson, but said Milroe is a major dual threat.

“It’s not like a quarterback that’s scrambling and he’s going to slide and make sure you don’t hit him so you don’t get a penalty,” Minter said. “This dude is going to run like a legit tailback or like a legit slot receiver once he’s in space.”

Along with his obvious skills, Milroe has developed a reputation as a tenacious competitor who wills his team forward. He etched that determination into Alabama lore when the stepped up in the final minute of the Iron Bowl and threw a miraculous touchdown pass to Isaiah Bond on fourth-and-31.

“I went home for the holidays, and that’s all I heard,” Milroe said with a grin. “Being around family (saying), ‘What was going through your mind on that play?’ Well, you had to be there.”

Milroe beat out two contenders for the starting job last summer, but it lasted only until Week 2, when a two-interception performance in the Tide's home loss to Texas prompted Saban to bench him.

When both of his backups struggled, the benching lasted only one week. After cheering from the sideline, Milroe returned and promptly led Alabama to a win over Ole Miss.

“I took it as a learning moment,” Milroe said. “Looked in the mirror. Figured out some things I need to improve on. At the end of the day, it’s all about being the right teammate, being the best teammate I can be. I lean on the FAMILY acronym: Forget About Me, I Love You. That was critical when I went into that week. ... When it was an opportunity for someone else to play, I was just trying to be the best teammate I can be.”

Milroe is an acronym aficionado: His NIL-brand gear, LANK ("Let All Naysayers Know"), is taking off among Alabama players and fans to the point of requiring a pop-up store in Pasadena this week.

Milroe and teammate Terrion Arnold also are selling T-shirts celebrating “The Gravedigger” — Alabama's name for the play that resulted in the already-legendary TD pass against Auburn.

“Give me that Heisman!” Milroe famously yelled amid the postgame celebration with an enthusiasm that later made him laugh.

That didn’t happen, but maybe next year: Milroe recently said he intends to return to the Tide next season.


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