When he walks into the conference room at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio where he will defend his dissertation in pharmacology on Friday afternoon, Peter LoCoco is going to be glad he used to kick field goals for TCU football.
He’s got this.
“To this day, I draw back on some of the traits that were instilled in me by my experiences at TCU,” the former Horned Frogs kicker said. “Especially being accountable to my work and persevering in hard times. It’s weird — I learned those skills under the football lights in front of thousands of people, you would think giving a talk in front of 50 or 100 people would be a piece of cake. But it’s still tough.”
On New Year’s Eve 2005, LoCoco made a 44-yard field goal to help TCU win the Houston Bowl against Iowa State.
Friday, he will be called on to present a public seminar on his six years of research into pain medicine for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, then answer questions from a university committee in private for up to two hours. A little after that, the 33-year-old from Fort Worth will know if he has earned his Ph.D.
I remember in the 2005 season, I completely missed Wednesday practices because I had to be in my science labs. But you figure out ways to manage.
Peter LoCoco, former TCU kicker
“Pain is a tough field, but it’s a good one,” he said. “Everyone experiences pain. The gold standard for painkillers up to this point has been opiates, but everyone is aware of the ongoing opiate epidemic, not only in the U.S. but around the world. So there’s a huge push to find safer and more effective painkilling drugs.”
LoCoco spent two seasons kicking for TCU, making 13 of 24 kicks mainly as the long field goal specialist in a platoon with Chris Manfredini. LoCoco, a former Nolan Catholic standout, made a 52-yard kick into the wind in a TCU victory at Wyoming in 2005. He was on scholarship by his last year, he said.
“I’m very proud of a lot of accomplishments, but being a very competitive athlete, there’s always frustration,” he said. “Statistically, I feel I could have performed better, especially early on in my career. Walking on to winning the starting spot and playing for three years, it’s still something I’m very proud of. I definitely miss being part of it.”
But it wasn’t easy to juggle academics and football, he said, and for him it was harder than most.
“For a lot of the course work I had to take, there are only a handful of times and certain semesters I could take those classes,” he said. “I remember in the 2005 season, I completely missed Wednesday practices because I had to be in my science labs. But you figure out ways to manage.”
Peter LoCoco made game-winning field goals against Northwestern in the 2004 season opener and the Houston Bowl in 2005.
LoCoco is the oldest of five siblings, the son of a surgeon and a teacher. He said he spent his early childhood in Lubbock while his father was in medical school at Texas Tech and two years in Canada for elementary school while his father did an oncology fellowship in Ontario.
LoCoco long thought he would follow his father’s footsteps in medicine before realizing he had a knack for research. But he was still trying to find a kicking job in football after graduating from TCU in 2007 until he bumped into a recruiter for the San Antonio research center.
“She invited me for an interview and a tour of the campus, and it was completely eye-opening,” he said. “I had never seen a research engine like this. I fell in love the second I came down here.”
With his Ph.D in hand, LoCoco said he will continue work at UTHSC with other researchers in pain medicine and learn to conduct clinical trials. He has a keen focus on a drug that can treat “peripheral neuropathy and pain” from chemotherapy.
I’m excited about branching out and asking some tough questions and seeing if we can’t figure out some things.
Peter LoCoco, Ph.D candidate
“Currently, there is nothing that alleviates the pain. Patients just have to deal with it or stop taking the chemo that is saving their lives from cancer,” he said. “I’m excited about branching out and asking some tough questions and seeing if we can’t figure out some things.”
But first things first — knocking out his dissertation presentation in a public setting and his dissertation defense in front of other experts. There will be pressure, but he remembers how to deal with pressure.
“I think back to a lot of the things that helped me stay composed and poised,” he said. “Just focus and do what I planned on doing.”