The Real McCoy

It was a typical overcast Saturday in February and Gerald McCoy was hungry. Less than two weeks had passed since the 6-foot-4, 285-pounder on Feb. 1 revealed he would be attending the University of Oklahoma by pulling a crimson Nike OU ball cap out of a bag before 650 raucous students at Southeast High School's gymnasium...

As part of his signing day announcement in Oklahoma City, McCoy, the nation's consensus prep defensive player of the year, flashed the upside down Hook ‘em ‘Horns gesture.

That brash warning for those south of the Red River instantly branded him a true Sooner.

With cameras flashing and reporters jostling to interview him, McCoy smiled radiantly, basking in what he believed was the climax to an arduous recruiting ride in which he also considered Louisiana State, Notre Dame and USC.

No longer would he have to endure the late-night telephone calls and deal with incessant stalking by the media.

It was all over now, or so he thought.

Yet as the hulking defensive tackle unfolded out of his sky blue 1989 Chevrolet Celebrity at a McDonald's at SE 44th Street and Shields in search of a double cheeseburger, he realized his life had forever been changed.

As he walked inside to order, one of the restaurant's employees immediately took notice of his OU hat, as did another and then another.

He placed his order and shortly after doing so the store's crew began to swarm him for autographs.

"They stopped the whole store, because everybody was just waiting in line," McCoy said. "People in the drive-thru were asking me to come outside and sign stuff. It was wild man."

Over the next 10 minutes, McCoy, known to family and friends as G.K., stood in the store, penning his signature on napkins and everything else pushed in front of him.

By the time he finished, his cheeseburger was almost an afterthought.

"People used to hesitate approaching me before because they didn't know if I was going to Oklahoma, but now all the OU fans are going crazy," McCoy said. "It's cool though."

But long before being mentioned in the same breath as the legendary Selmon brothers as potentially the most dominant defensive prep player to ever set foot on the gridiron in Oklahoma, McCoy was well known in south Oklahoma City for his athletic prowess.

As a freshman at Southeast High, he was a rare two-way starter at both offensive tackle and defensive tackle. But McCoy's rise to stardom in recruiting circles started with him attending his first Oklahoma football camp in 2003, the summer before his sophomore season.

"Going in I just thought they were going to show us some skills," McCoy said. "I didn't actually know we were going to have to show what we could do."

Within the first day, word about the dominating big kid from Oklahoma City had spread throughout the camp.

"Couldn't nobody stop me," McCoy said. "I don't like to say that, because I'm not cocky or whatever, but I was just unstoppable. I never got beat."

Once Oklahoma defensive line coach Jackie Shipp heard about McCoy, he made his way over to the youngster for a closer look and was amazed at the talent he saw before him.

"I don't know how, but I just knew it then," Shipp said. "You could see the potential. You saw the height, the size and the way he moved as just a 14- or 15-year-old at that time. He had such a great upside and how he was blessed already athletically then. You just knew that he was going to get better."

That same day, Shipp also won perhaps one of his most important battles ever.

"Coach Wilson tried to get me to go play offense, but coach Shipp wouldn't let me," McCoy said. "He made me stay with defense."

At the time, McCoy said he was naïve to attention he was receiving from Shipp.

"He kept talking to me and I remember thinking, ‘I must be doing something good for this dude to keep coming over here,'" McCoy said. "I didn't know who he was and he wouldn't stop talking to me. He was pretty cool though so I just kept talking to him. Later, I told my dad, ‘Some dude kept talking to me.' He asked me he who he was and what he had on and he went crazy. He said, ‘That's the defensive line coach for OU!'"

The camp in 2004 also marked the first time McCoy ever met Bob Stoops. His introduction to the Oklahoma coach came after being whisked away on a golf cart during warm up drills to see him.

"I really didn't know what was happening," McCoy said. "They said somebody wanted to talk to me. I actually thought I might have gotten in trouble for something in the dorms so I was looking over at my daddy just in case."

But once the golf cart stopped in front of Stoops, McCoy was in awe.

"I was like, ‘Man, this can't be real,'" McCoy said. "It was real exciting."

From that moment on, McCoy knew he would someday be a Sooner, even though his resolve would later be tested during official visits to other schools.

"It was my first love," he said. "There's nothing that can compare to how I'd fit in at OU and how their style of play is and how me and coach Shipp get along and stuff. There's just nothing better."

When McCoy returned for another OU football camp the summer before his junior year, the coaches pitted him against the likes of current Sooner offensive lineman Ben Barresi and others.

Suddenly, he had become the grading scale for offensive line recruits seeking scholarships.

Southeast High principal Michael Maples' first encounter with McCoy came in Aug. 2004 during his first day at the school.

The former principal of Oklahoma City's John Marshall High School for six years, Maples was well aware of the influence a high-profile athlete can have on fellow students.

During his tenure at John Marshall High, the school produced several NCAA basketball standouts, the most highly touted of whom was J.R. Giddens, a former Kansas signee now attending New Mexico.

So when Maples met McCoy, he wasn't sure what to expect until the gentle giant greeted him with an outstretched hand.

"He walked up to me and introduced himself and thanked me for being here," Maples said. "It was just like we had known each other for years. He made me feel very much at ease. It was very nice."

Since then the relationship between Maples and McCoy has blossomed, as evidenced by their frequent conversations about their favorite topic, education, not football.

"Last year we had huge gains in our academics and he's been a big part of that as far as working as a leader within the school," Maples said.

"He's the type of person that no matter what happens in life, he'll probably come back by school to talk to kids and see kids and to become part of the heritage that we have and the lineage that we have. He takes a lot of pride in what he does."

The moment of clarity McCoy had been praying about for months in making his college decision finally hit him Jan. 16.

Fresh off a dominating performance at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl before a nationwide television audience that saw him in the East backfield play-after-play, McCoy and his family sat in their south Oklahoma City home visiting with Shipp.

It was the second and final trip the OU coach would make to their home.

"My assistant pastor of my church told me, ‘Whenever you hear the school that you're supposed to be at you'll hear comfort zone and you'll just be comfortable,'" McCoy said. "She said, ‘There's nothing about it that will make you uncomfortable.' When coach Shipp started saying what he said that night, I just felt relaxed anytime he would say anything.

"The way he presented himself just proved to me that there's no one better than this. He had to go to the bathroom and when he did, I told my parents, ‘You can see it in my eyes, I'm going to OU.'"

So when Shipp departed for home that fateful night, McCoy made sure to walk him out to his red Denali.

"I told him, ‘You can go ahead and call coach Stoops and tell him I'm going to be a Sooner in the fall," McCoy said.

With those words, Shipp had scored the nation's top prep defensive tackle for the second straight year.

"When I told him, his body just went droopy," McCoy said. "It was like a relief."

After giving his word to Shipp, McCoy said he did consider making his choice public prior to signing day, but decided against it.

"I just wanted to have everybody going crazy," McCoy said. "Even for a minute I told everybody I wasn't going to OU."

With the shenanigans of recruiting behind him, McCoy is already starting to focus on his future in Norman. He insists that he only wants to "be in the rotation" for playing time next season, but his lengthy list of goals clearly indicates otherwise.

"I want to be a freshman All-American, win the Lombardi and the Outland, and be an All-American," McCoy said. "I want to graduate, win a national championship and be a first-round pick."

Shipp said McCoy will be given every opportunity to make an impact as a freshman.

"When we start practice, believe me he's going to be thrown in the fire from Day One and getting the same amount of reps as the upperclassmen that are already here to compete for playing time and a starting position," he said. "We'll see what happens from there."

In the meantime, McCoy is still learning to adjust to his celebrity status and the perks that go along with it.

During a trip to the Switzer Center in Norman for a recent photo shoot, he admitted the experience was special.

"I'm not scared," McCoy said. "I'm ready to go in there and compete."

*The above article appeared in the April issue of Sooners Illustrated.*

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