"It's a role I think I had to take," he says. "I'm a good football player, and I'm an older guy now, so I think that comes with time and experience. I'm going to fulfill the job."
McCoy, soon to begin his second year as the No. 1 weakside linebacker, is just as physically gifted as Mayo. That's why the Washington D.C. product is on the preseason watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given annually to college football's premier defender.
Where Mayo and McCoy differ is size and accountability. At 6-1 and 215 pounds, McCoy is considerable smaller than the 6-2, 240-pound Mayo. McCoy also falls short of his former teammate in terms of maturity. Whereas Mayo went the extra mile in athletics and academics, McCoy has shown a tendency to cut corners. That cost him dearly last January, when he missed the Outback Bowl because of academic deficiencies. If he wants to be taken seriously as a team leader, McCoy knows he must show more discipline in the months ahead.
"I'm going to have to be more accountable," he said. "I have to be a leader, so there's no room to slack off – class room, practice, weight room. I have to take a step forward."
Although he remains one of the Vols' most popular players, McCoy understands that he let down his teammates last winter. He is rededicating himself to the program in an effort to earn redemption.
"I feel as though I owe that to my teammates and to the school," he said. "I've been here for three years now, and I know a lot of guys look up to me. It's time for me to be That Guy, be a leader and take charge of things.
"Jerod was our leader, on and off the field. Now I just have to try and follow in his footsteps."
With Mayo playing middle linebacker last fall, McCoy learned a lot from his fellow 'backer. The primary lesson? Dependability and accountability.
"When you're playing beside the No. 10 pick – the No. 2 linebacker chosen in the draft last year – you can't play by a better guy," McCoy recalled. "He was always there for workouts, never got in trouble. That's as close as you can get to perfect, and I was fortunate enough to play a season beside him."