There was the night Greg McCoy just wanted to be dropped off in the parking lot of the Fiesta Mart grocery store on South Buckner Boulevard in east Dallas. Not the safest of neighborhoods, but McCoy was no stranger to the area.
TCU's senior cornerback and return specialist, was a sophomore at Dallas Wilson High School then, when he pleaded with coach Bobby Estes to drop him off without knowing where he'd lay his head that night.
Estes wasn't having it. So the two waited until McCoy's grandmother, one of a few stable alternatives, returned home later that evening.
McCoy, like many kids in southeast Dallas, came from a single-parent home where his mother did her best and his two older brothers turned to hustling to make ends meet. Dad wasn't in the picture.
Where Greg would sleep the next night, let alone his future, was far from certain.
Dead on arrival
"I always thought he was a miracle child," said Elizabeth McCoy, Greg's grandmother, or "Granny." McCoy was born a month premature and his mother Neancia, who suffered from anemia, hemorrhaged badly during the birth. Both nearly died, but doctors revived Greg after a 15-minute struggle. Mom woke up five days later not knowing whether her son had lived or died.
"It was just the spirit of God that brought him back," Neancia said.
As he grew older, it was clear to those around him, that Greg had a light about him. He was wiser than his years and uncommonly mature as a child.
"He never had the 'I and my' spirit," said Granny, 65. "Greg would always try to rationalize a situation. He always thought that was better than fighting it out. He was the one who always tried to resolve things without making a big deal about it. He was one who always wanted peace."
Greg's maturity and easy-going demeanor as a young boy produced a nickname from his family: "Mister."
"I think he was born that way and then it was instilled by my father and mother," said Nathan McCoy, Greg's uncle and longtime Pop Warner football coach. "They made him understand that you have to work for everything."
Greg's will to succeed on the field was evident when, at the age of 12, he was told he needed to lose six pounds in order to play on his uncle's team, according to age and weight requirements for the league. McCoy and some teammates lost the weight in two weeks by eating healthy and working out extensively.
"He was willing to sacrifice," Uncle Nathan recalled. "I ran him every day and he never complained. Not one time."
That wasn't the case with Greg's older brothers, Demarco and Brandon McCoy. Both began hustling on the streets. It was what kids did in the neighborhood with no stable home life, no structure, no coaches.
"I was used to it," Greg said. "My brothers and a couple other family members were involved in just about everything that went on in south Dallas, mostly bad. We had our way of relieving stress, we had our way of making money, we had our ways of dealing with a lot of things that I deal with now through sports."
But his brothers always kept Greg away from trouble, imploring him to stay in school and to stay away from drugs.
"We had a plan, basically," Greg said. "We'll handle this, we'll handle that, but you, you go to school. So when I wanted to go hang out with them and do the things they were doing, it was always more like a father figure. They were always on me about doing the right thing."
Demarco, the eldest, who has since turned his life around with a steady job and a wife and four kids, was adamant that his little brother go a different path.
"We had a hard life, but we made sure he did everything right so he wouldn't go that route," he said. "We wanted to make sure he didn't go through what we went through." Brandon McCoy, the middle brother, is currently incarcerated for gun possession.
'No, no, no ... go, go, go!'
It was clear to Dallas Wilson football coach Bobby Estes that Greg had the physical ability to play college football. He was fast, athletic and worked hard. During an area-round playoff game against Wylie at Texas Stadium, Greg's talents came into focus for Estes. McCoy, playing cornerback at the time, received a quick kick by Wylie while Estes yelled from the sideline 'No, no, no!'
After Greg broke a tackle and ripped up the sideline about 50 yards Estes' screaming turned into 'Go, go, go!'
"We knew he was special," Estes said. "I think only one or two kids caught a ball on him all year."
One day during the off-season at Wilson a row of college coaches evaluated star recruit Sergio Kindle. During the practice, former TCU coach and then Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione remarked to Estes: "Well, if we don't get Sergio Kindle, we need to get him."
But McCoy's grades were average at best while he balanced three jobs and played football. He needed a stable home to finish his last two years at Wilson, a place he could study, get a full night's sleep and prove to colleges he wasn't an academic risk.
"Like a lot of kids from lower socio-economic homes C's are OK," Estes said. "And if you go with a C and a mediocre test score you don't qualify."
Greg and Estes sat down with Granny to lay out the situation. Greg would stay with her and Estes would pick him up every day for school. Granny was on board and Greg vowed to get his grades up. By his senior year, Greg was making all A's.
"There were several different air pumps that helped fill up his inner tube but at the same time he was the one who kept the tires spinning," said Estes, who along with his wife Barbara, Granny and many others will be at Greg's last TCU game on Wednesday, the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego against Louisiana Tech.
Greg's success on the field at TCU surprised few. He was named the Mountain West Conference's Special Teams player of the year after returning two kickoffs for touchdowns and ranks fourth nationally with almost 32 yards per return. But Greg has also flourished academically at TCU. He graduated in May and is working on a graduate degree.
"I thought he'd make it, but he truly took the ball and ran with it," said TCU special teams coach Dan Sharp, who recruited Greg. "From the time he stepped on this campus he was focused and had his mind set on getting an education and bettering his life."
After reflecting on where he came from and where he is now, with the NFL a tangible expectation, Greg's generous spirit won't let him forget all those who helped him along the way. There were Willis and Janice Winters, who lost a son, a teammate of Greg's at Wilson, before their junior season from a freak blood clot. The Wilsons helped support Greg, offering odd jobs and supplying him with a laptop for homework. Another family held weekly Princeton Review classes to help Greg study for the SAT. Barbara Estes has hardly missed one of Greg's games at TCU.
"I'm very at peace with whatever Greg does next," she said. "Whether it's the next level of football, or if he completes his masters or goes into business or whatever he decides to do. I just feel so confident in Greg, that he's got it. He's got an unshakeable foundation."
The Esteses, Granny, Uncle Nathan, his mother, they all did what they could to help. Each credits the others. Greg never forgot, never took it for granted, and appreciates their support now more than ever.
"He had good people around him who gave him support and got him through high school," Sharp said. "And we kind of took the baton when he got here. But he, himself, has taken it so much further than I thought he'd take it."
His gracious attitude has been noticed by his teammates, including senior safety Johnny Fobbs.
"Greg never puts himself first," Fobbs said. "That's one of the best things about him. He puts his family first, then he puts his teammates first. He's always worrying about somebody else. You can't ask for a better quality in a young man. You probably don't find that quality in some older men."