Ready to Roll
This article appears in the October/November 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
On eight Friday nights and two Thursday evenings this football season, St. John's senior Rico McCoy will be in uniform. But he won't play a single down on those nights.
You see, the 6-foot-2, 213-pound linebacker suits up in full gear the night before every game. We're talking pads, cleats, helmet and buckled chinstrap. McCoy, who is rated the nation's No. 97 recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com, gleefully admits the ritual is a case of Christmas Eve-like anticipation to run around and whack some people.
"Oh, I walk all around the house in full uniform, for real," says McCoy, who whacked his way to 120 tackles and two sacks as a junior. "I just pace back and forth and think about what I'm gonna do. I've been doing that since my freshman year. My parents think it's a little crazy, but I guess I am."
McCoy is crazy, all right. But only for football. And like a real-life version of Cuba Gooding Jr. in "Jerry Maguire," McCoy even punctuates some of his sentences with a familiar "whoo!" or "you know?"
McCoy's enthusiasm is endless. But how in the world does this guy stay so pumped up? Through all the double sessions and all the offseason workouts (he spent several weeks with personal trainer Ricky Triplett this past summer). Through every practice. Right through the night before games, when he gets so jacked up he has to gear up.
"It's about trying to master the game," says McCoy, who will turn 17 on Nov. 6. "I just give myself a new challenge every game. Football is fun to me. I'm always trying something new. I think I can play for a long time, you know?"
Much of McCoy's football foundation exists thanks to his 18-year-old brother, Reggie, a redshirt freshman safety at Syracuse. Growing up, it was Reggie, a former All-State defensive back at DeMatha, who kept Rico honest in his dedication to the game. On those rare occasions when their parents couldn't give them a ride to Pop Warner practice, Rico would breathe a sigh of relief. Reggie, however, would find some alternate means of transportation and drag his younger brother with him.
"He showed me the way," says Rico, who played his first two high school seasons at DeMatha before transferring to St. John's for his junior year. "Ever since we've been kids, I've wanted to be like him. He always worked harder than the next guy, and I was always trying to compete with him."
Rico McCoy has done a good deal more than that. He's kept up.
Blessed with a high-rev motor from snap to whistle, his gifts as a run stopper are immeasurable. Able to take on multiple blockers at the point of attack, McCoy often beats running backs to their own hole. He excels at dropping into coverage and then exploding to the ball when his assignment shifts to filling the gaps.
"He's full go all the time, and he's very explosive," says St. John's first-year head coach Joe Patterson, 29, a former defensive back for the Cadets. "His ability to blow up the blocking scheme of a play is exceptional. He's got good speed on the clock (4.52 in the 40-yard dash), but it's nothing compared to his game speed. He just flashes around out there."
McCoy, who has earned the nickname "The Hit Man," is such a dominant defensive presence that Patterson plays him everywhere on the scout team defense during practice in an effort to toughen up the Cadets' offense. St. John's blockers will see him line up at nose guard, defensive end, inside linebacker and his true position on the outside. The logic being: If you block a baaad man in practice all week, you'll be especially pumped to play on game day.
Of course, that's a lot of responsibility for one guy. And elevating himself from an injury-plagued sophomore season at DeMatha (he missed four games due to a broken left foot) to a Washington Post All-Met honorable mention campaign last year must have increased the pressure for McCoy to perform this fall.
Not so, he says.
"To be honest, I had more pressure on me last year," says McCoy. "Coming into last season, I was so worried about a scholarship. Only Maryland and Syracuse had expressed interest, and I wanted a lot of offers from more of the big guys. Every game, I was worried they'd be watching me and I'd make a mistake. This year, anyone going to a game is just going to see a show."
For the record, McCoy entered this season with more than a dozen scholarship offers from elite college programs, and he lists powerhouses Ohio State, Michigan, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Miami as his top choices.
In the end, arguably McCoy's toughest critics live under the same roof. And he shouldn't expect any different considering he parades around the house in his uniform the night before games. Football is a family affair in the McCoy house, and everyone has an opinion.
"Oh yeah, my sister (11-year-old Diamond), my mom and dad — it's a football family, so they're going to have their say," says McCoy. "If I mess up in a game, next thing you know my mom will be there picking at me over dinner. I like that. They cheer me on and they yell at me when I mess up. Whoo! What else can you ask for in a fan, you know?"