Brandon McCoy’s road to his role as a defensive end on North Texas’ resurgent football program required a detour for a transformative experience.
Kicked out of his home after being kicked out of two high schools — the last after he was caught cheating at an alternative school — McCoy appeared set on a life of chasing his demons rather than quarterbacks.
“The military really gave me the foundation to change my life,” said McCoy, now a 28-year-old senior. “I give credit to God, but going to the Army really made me understand that life isn’t about me. Everything doesn’t revolve around me.
“It made me selfless, gave me values and morals. It instilled in me to always work for the person next to you. The Army was everything.”
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Today, “Sarge” is a big contributor to the Mean Green’s eight-man defensive line rotation that includes Everman’s Aaron Bellazin and looked up to by his teammates.
McCoy has also been recognized nationally.
McCoy is a nominee — and likely a leading candidate — for the Armed Forces Merit Award, presented to the person within the realm of football who best exemplifies the spirit of the U.S. armed forces.
The winner will be announced on Veteran’s Day.
McCoy’s prospective big moment coincides with a potential defining moment for the Mean Green football team.
North Texas plays Conference USA West Division co-leader Rice (4-0 CUSA, 6-2 overall) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Apogee Stadium.
The Mean Green, at 3-1 in conference play, are a game back of the Owls and Tulane. A victory would make 5-3 North Texas bowl eligible, three years after being considered — in the words of its coach — among the worst programs in FBS.
It’s hard to imagine North Texas on the verge of becoming a C-USA football stronghold without this class of senior leaders, which includes captain Zach Orr, quarterback Derek Thompson and defensive lineman Richard Abbe and McCoy, all four-year players in the program and each members of a 2-10 team in the last year of former coach Todd Dodge and 3-9 in the first year under Dan McCarney.
McCoy was an unlikely walk-on on the 2010 team, yet a changed man.
While his peers navigated science and the humanities, McCoy was in boot camp and eventually found himself in the battle fields of Iraq for 13 months as part of his 4 1/2 year commitment to the Army.
McCoy said he entered an unwilling soldier, but he left with a new life and goals after a much-needed intervention.
“He’s humble and appreciative of the opportunity here,” said McCarney, who put the 6-foot-2, 257-pound McCoy on scholarship. “It goes back to who he is, the character.”
A changed person
McCoy’s first year in the service of Uncle Sam was admittedly a rocky road.
He wasn’t ready to “buy in.”
That changed in an instant one night during a 17-day field-training stretch.
“I remember as if it just happened,” McCoy said.
McCoy was pulling a 24-hour stint. Among his duties was to keep a log of radio calls.
While his colleagues were running through their missions, he fell asleep for 2 1/2 hours before being awakened by a major.
“He gave me the worst butt-chewing I ever had,” McCoy said. “But it wasn’t just yelling at me.”
Rather, the major said he wanted McCoy to become a better soldier, a better person and to know that everybody has a responsibility and no matter how small it might be it still has to be met or people could get hurt.
McCoy said he was given 14 days of restricted duty on post.
He had gotten in trouble again. Nothing had changed since high school at Carrollton Creekview.
“I told myself that this would be the last time,” McCoy said. “I won’t continue to do this. I took on the traditions and values of the military.”
And he vowed to always “put others before me.”
He never looked back. And he started dreaming. Dreaming of playing college football.
He had, after all, been the best athlete at just about every Army competition on post. For three years, McCoy began to train for a purpose outside of the Army.
Focused on the turnaround
McCoy came home to Dallas and wrote coaches at North Texas, telling them what he wanted to do.
In 2010, the walk-on freshman played in 11 games. In 2011, he had 44 tackles, including 7.5 for loss. He also had 4.5 sacks.
McCoy was selected a captain in 2012, but injuries limited him to nine games.
A weight gain during the summer left him not feeling as “springy.”
He’s trying to get down to 250 pounds.
“There have been times I’ve been really good” this season, said McCoy, who has 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks. “Other times I could have played better.
“I’m going to show a lot better football player” in the days and weeks ahead.
McCoy has already earned a degree in kinesiology and is in his first semester of a master’s program in recreation and sports nutrition.
He has plans.
But first, McCoy wants to finish out his part in turning around North Texas’ football program.
Where this season ends will play out in the coming weeks. First things first: Rice.
McCarney is fond of saying “there is something special about this team.”
The coach boasts that this senior class doesn’t want to be forgotten easily, lost in another losing season.
“They want to be remembered,” McCarney said.
Gone is the culture of losing that shadowed the football field, leaving players embarrassed to wear their gear around campus, McCoy said.
“It means a lot to us,” McCoy said, referring to his senior teammates that have been through the worst. “To come to this year and these same seniors who have been going through such valleys and now our senior year … we’re a really good football team.”
It’s also still about the experiences, McCoy said.
McCoy said he plans to take his experiences with him in a career in education.
When his playing days are over, McCoy, who has a wife, Teresa, and two children, wants to teach and coach at the middle school level because “that’s were I started to go wrong.”
“We all learn from each other,” McCarney said. “He has more of an impact on this team than he realizes. I love him, I respect him.”
North Texas vs. Rice
6:30 p.m. Thursday, Apogee Stadium
Records: North Texas, 5-3, 3-1 C-USA; Rice, 6-2, 4-0
Radio: KHYI/95.3 FM, KNTU/88.1 FM
|Points per game||31.8||30.6|
|3rd down conv.||47.6%||34.5%|
|Def. 3rd down conv.||36.9%||32.8%|