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Mission trips to Peru put McCoy's stardom in perspective
Saturday, Oct 17, 2009
By Joshua Cooley

AUSTIN, Texas (BP)--Sometimes, in the rare quiet moments afforded to star quarterbacks from the University of Texas, Colt McCoy allows his mind to drift toward the inscrutable.

He thinks about his personal playground – Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, a massive shrine that allows more than 100,000 people to worship at college football’s altar each autumn Saturday.

He thinks about his locker room – by many standards, a small palace with 125 eight-foot-high lockers, five flat-screen televisions and a three-dimensional, lighted Longhorn emblem. He thinks about his player’s lounge, which boasts six more flat-screens, seven video game consoles, custom theater seats, recliners, and a food bar.

Then he thinks about Peru.

He remembers the mud-caked children whose tattered shirts are the only ones they own. He remembers their meager plates of food that wouldn’t even pass for a cheap appetizer at Aquarelle, a dining hotspot in Austin. He remembers the claustrophobic huts the natives call home.

The disparity is unnerving.

“Dad, we don’t have a clue in America,” McCoy told his father, Brad, after returning from one of his enlightening trips. “I’m not going to gripe about anything because I have so much.”

While countless legions of peers flocked to leisure-filled beaches, McCoy spent his last two spring breaks deep in the Amazon jungle near Iquitos, Peru. During each week-plus trip with a Fellowship of Christian Athletes group, he traveled to various villages to build homes, teach various sports and share the gospel. His luggage, stuffed with attire before he left, was virtually empty upon his return. The native children needed clothes much more than he did.

“I learned so much on the trip,” he said.

This much is clear: McCoy is not exactly your stereotypical college football star. A front-runner for this year’s Heisman Trophy and a likely millionaire bonus baby come next April’s NFL draft, he exudes about as much pretense as the indigent Peruvian children he met. The trips were not a savvy public relations move. He had wanted to take something of the kind ever since hearing stories about his grandparents’ medical missions to Africa years ago.

The excursions, though, are only a fraction of McCoy’s charitable endeavors. He also visits terminally ill children in the hospital the day before home games, spends time in nursing homes, tutors underprivileged children and shares his testimony at multiple events. Last year, he was named to the Allstate American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team.

This is a kid you want to take home to Mom.

“I do a lot of speaking engagements, especially at churches and schools,” McCoy said. “Any chance I have to talk to kids and reach out in the community, I do. I know I’m blessed to be in the position I am, and I want to share that experience and be a good role model for kids.”

McCoy’s strong faith and selfless attitude stem from a childhood filled with spiritual paradigms. His family’s Christianity runs at least several generations deep. In the late 1970s, his grandfather, Burl McCoy, started an a capella gospel group called the McCoy Family Singers, which includes Colt’s grandparents, his father and two of his father’s siblings. The group has produced 11 albums and performed in front of thousands. Colt has even sung on a couple recordings.

Colt placed his faith in Christ at age 14 and, by grace, has never strayed far in his spiritual journey.

“Without faith, we are nothing, and without God in my life, personally I am nothing,” he said. “Jesus was the greatest example that [God] gave us. Having faith in him and what he did for us is awesome.”

Colt also benefited from another McCoy family heirloom: athletic prowess. Brad and Burl both played football at Abilene Christian University in Texas, while Burl also was a nationally ranked hurdler. Debra McCoy, Colt’s mother, was an all-conference basketball player at Abilene. And Colt’s two younger brothers also play football – Chance is a sophomore wide receiver at Abilene, while Case is a senior quarterback at Graham High School (Texas), where Brad is the head coach and athletic director.

The 6-foot-2 Colt spent his freshman season as Vince Young’s understudy during Texas’ 2005 national championship season, and has since set an astounding 42 school records as the starter. Last year, only a historic season from Oklahoma counterpart and friend Sam Bradford denied McCoy from winning the Heisman. Finishing as runner-up, he set a new NCAA completion percentage standard (76.7) and racked up 3,859 yards and 34 touchdowns passing and 561 yards and 11 scores rushing – good for the Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year Award.

Tougher to swallow than the Heisman outcome was the Big 12 Conference’s curious end-of-season tiebreaker. Despite Texas and Oklahoma’s identical one-loss records and the Longhorns’ earlier win over Oklahoma, which was ranked No. 1 at the time, the championship game featured the Sooners and Missouri. With a win, the Sooners advanced to the Bowl Championship Series national title game, where they lost to Florida, while the Longhorns settled for the Fiesta Bowl.

Still, McCoy answered with a fabulous performance in a 24-21 win over Ohio State. He completed 41 of 58 passes for 414 yards and two touchdowns, including a 26-yard game-winner to wide receiver Quan Cosby with 16 seconds remaining.

True to his nature, McCoy took both the highs and lows of the 2008 season in stride.

“He’s a really humble kid,” Brad McCoy said. “He doesn’t understand the stardom. He doesn’t understand why people follow him for autographs everywhere he goes, 24/7. He’s just Colt. He loves his family. He is as comfortable fishing with his cousin as he is sitting in an ESPN studio in New York City.”

McCoy almost certainly would have been a first-round pick in last April’s NFL draft, but he opted to return to Texas for his senior season, spurning pro football’s riches for a final shot at a national championship. McCoy’s father said Colt stayed in college “out of love for his teammates and coaches.”

“He’s 21 and he has people telling him to come out and make $30 million off the bat,” Brad McCoy said. “That’s unfathomable to me. But it’s not a hard decision for him.”

For his part, Colt is naturally understated about this decision.

“I do hope to play in the NFL, but after that, I don’t really know,” he said. “I’m trying to get my degree right now.”

He might get much more than that. Texas has as good a chance as ever to claim the program’s fifth national title. The Longhorns, who returned 14 starters this year, are currently 4-0 and ranked No. 2 after thrashing Texas-El-Paso, 64-7, Sept. 26 behind a three-touchdown day from McCoy.

The team, which is averaging 49.5 points per game, has also benefited from surprising early-season losses by Big 12 foes Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The Longhorns had a bye this week and host Colorado (1-2) Oct. 10.

Individually, McCoy is keeping pace in the Heisman race. He has completed 71 percent of his passes for 1,145 yards and nine touchdowns, although he has thrown five interceptions. He knows continued success will bring more pressure from all angles. The good folks of Austin dream pretty big each year. NFL scouts are tracking his every move, too.

No biggie. This, after all, is Colt McCoy we’re talking about. His priorities are straight. His heart for others is huge. And he has witnessed the ravages of poverty and sickness that few others have. So what, by comparison, is a little weekly pandemonium in the world of big-time college football?

“There are all kinds of pressure,” he said. “The expectations are high every year, but I like it. I feel God has put me here for a reason, and hopefully we’ll keep winning games.”

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