Justin McCay competing for a spot in Oklahoma's wide receiver rotation pales compared to his father's battle with diabetes.
A star athlete at Westport High School in the late 1970s, Robert McCay made frequent trips to the hospital during Justin's freshman year at Bishop Miege High School in Shawnee, Kan., near Kansas City.
Robert was so sick he had cuts on his hands and feet that wouldn't heal. When his condition worsened, Robert felt Justin would benefit living with family friends that freshman season. His sophomore year Justin lived with a teammate's family. His junior year he lived with Miege offensive coordinator Jon Holmes.
After having 85 pounds of fluid drained from his legs in the spring of 2009, Robert was able to walk again. He accompanied Justin on his first recruiting visit to Norman. But on that trip Robert had difficulty keeping his balance.
A few weeks later, Justin was playing in an AAU basketball tournament in Minnesota. Noticing he had missed several calls, Justin phoned home, informed his father had died. An autopsy revealed Robert died from a heart attack from complications from diabetes.
"I had to grow up," McCay said. "It made me tougher mentally. This past year, being without my father, was very difficult. But he's still with me. Things he taught me are still teaching me now."
Miege coach Tim Grunhard, the Kansas City Chiefs starting center for 11 seasons, said McCay's athletic talent was always evident. But Grunhard said the primary reason McCay might play as a true freshman is due to his growth off the football field.
"Justin is a completely different kid than he was a year ago after his father passed away," Grunhard said. "His work ethic is much better. He put on about 15 to 20 pounds of solid muscle after basketball ended. He's worked so hard. And not just as an athlete.