In a recent candid interview, senior Offensive Guard James McCoy, who made a run at the starting RG slot in spring training and is neck-and-neck with Maurice Miller for that top spot as August drills loom, was blunt and to the point about his less-than-stellar Rebel career.
The 6-3, 310-pounder from Moss Point, MS, took the heat.
"I had attitude issues," said McCoy. "On paper, I look good and I know I have the talent to contribute to this team, but I have never dedicated myself to going the extra mile like the offensive linemen who were ahead of me.
"I just did what I had to do and nothing more. I was seen as someone doing my own thing and not as part of the group."
McCoy said, in essence, he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder and felt like he was "different" for the longest time.
"I come from a single parent family, my brother is in prison and I have very little support system. I have had a tough time," he explains. "I have never had much while I've been here - no car until this year and I've lived in a dorm my whole career while all my teammates were moving off campus. I'm the only senior football player still living in a dorm.
"I used all that as an excuse to blame everyone but myself for my lack of productivity on the field. In truth, it was up to me to change it all."
He laments the coaching change as he was headed into his junior year.
"I had just won over (former OL) Coach (John) Latina and was setting myself up for some good playing time last year and then he's gone," he continued. "Instead of trying harder to prove myself to the new OL coach (George DeLeone), I let myself fall back in the pack. I felt I was pre-judged based on my past and I was put at the back of the line. Instead of buckling up and giving it everything I had to move up, I gave in to that and kept blaming other people."
James didn't even make the travel squad last year. His bitterness grew and his focus on football lessened.
Midway through last year, he finally broke down and went to team and OL leader Tre' Stallings, who pulled no punches with McCoy.
"Tre' told me exactly how it was. He told me it was a shame for me to waste the talent I have and that I wasn't doing anything to change anyone's mind about me," McCoy stated. "He opened my eyes, along with Marcus Johnson."
About the time of his sit-down with Stallings, Johnson - now in the NFL - came back to Ole Miss during an open week. He was as blunt as Tre' was with McCoy.
"Marcus said 'I can't believe you haven't taken over one of the guard positions - it's all on you.' That was another eye-opener," he explained. "They both said what I knew deep down but wouldn't admit. This whole deal was my fault and I had to change my attitude and outlook. Nobody was out to get me, nobody was to blame but me for my lack of producing on the field."
Johnson and Stallings' advice got James thinking, but it was an incident on campus that got him acting - the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak.
"I was going to class early this semester and a student walked up to me and said 'I didn't know you were still here or still on the team.' Man, that broke me down," James said.
McCoy almost instantly starting taking responsibility for his actions and putting in the extra effort necessary, especially when DeLeone moved on and Art Kehoe was hired to replace him.
"I felt I had a clean slate with Coach Kehoe. I also knew this was my last chance to prove myself," he says. "I had nothing to blame but the guy in the mirror if it didn't work out.
"I always saw guys like Tre', Marcus, Doug (Buckles), Bobby (Harris) and the guys who were playing going the extra mile, but I never joined in. I did the bare minimum and I have paid for that attitude with three years of not playing in games. I worked hard when I was required to, but not until this offseason did I do the extra things on my own."
James asked himself a simple question - what could he do to get himself on the level of the guys who were playing in the games?
"The answer was as simple as the question - accept responsibility," he said.
In spring, the "new" James McCoy began to emerge. He started off behind, but didn't let it get him down this time. As a result, he gradually moved up the depth chart and late in spring replaced Miller as the number one RG - temporarily.
"In the spring game, I was number two, but Coach Kehoe told me that Mo and I are in a battle, that he considered both of us number one," McCoy said with a degree of satisfaction.
"I'm now taking the initiative and going the extra mile. I'm doing the things I need to do before I'm asked to. I'm trying to be a more active member of the team," he closed. "I feel like my teammates are now counting on me to contribute and produce.
"Coach O has a saying about being 'in.' I'm now in. Better late than never is how I'm looking at it. I regret the wasted time, but you learn lessons in life and I hope I have learned mine."
James already has a degree in criminal justice in hand and is working on a minor.
His aim now is to make his mark on the Rebel football team. The ball is in his court.
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