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.
"We were concerned about him qualifying but he did a solid job, getting four A's and two B's. He's turned into a man this past year. He was a kid who was kind of lost. But the past year he's kind of found himself. He's ready to go there and compete."
Ryan Broyles will be the Sooners' No. 1 receiver. But who fills the other wide receiver roles will be determined during two-a-days and the non-conference schedule.
Besides McCay, other candidates include: Dejuan Miller, Brandon Caleb, Cameron Kenney, Jaz Reynolds, Mossis Madu and Kenny Stills
Grunhard said being part of a college program like OU will provide stability the 6-foot-4, 215-pound wide receiver with 4.5 speed hasn't had since middle school.
"A lot of people have helped Justin but he's the one who has worked hard to be in this position," Grunhard said. "Now that he'll have his own dorm room, and be part of a program like OU, I'm confident he'll take ownership and thrive."
Justin has an older brother and younger sister. But it was Justin who gave a eulogy at his father's funeral. He wanted people to know how much his father meant to him, how lessons his father taught him will influence him the rest of his life.
"He was a fighter no matter what," Justin said. "Even when he got real sick he'd still go to work and help me work out. He was tough. His main thing was to work hard and give it your all. That's what I'm going to do in everything I do."
The Justin McCay file
Position: Wide Receiver
Hometown: Shawnee, Kan.
High School: Bishop Miege