NORMAN – Gerald McCoy starts every game the same way. He stares down his opponent, then points his finger at them. "You’re going down,” he says. Then the charades start. No matter the game at the weekly Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting — charades, human tic-tac-toe, whatever — McCoy is in the middle of it. He wants to soak up the experience. He wants to live to the fullest. On Saturdays, the Oklahoma defensive tackle plays on one of college football’s biggest stages. He is watched by millions. He is cheered by thousands. He is respected by every player who wears crimson and cream. But McCoy is so much more than a gridiron giant, a 6-foot-4, 297-pound he-man who bullies offensive linemen, drills quarterbacks and smashes running backs. He is a leader and a speaker, a friend and an ambassador. This is the guy in the final shot on the university’s promotional video that appears during television broadcasts of Sooner games. He’s the football player holding the ballerina. In a season when he was one of three OU All-Americans who decided to return to college instead of going to the pros, McCoy expected greatness. A conference title. A national championship. But now, the wisdom of those decisions has been questioned as Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham have been sidelined by injury. Yet, McCoy shows no signs of frustration, no hint of doubt. In fact, he’s enjoying himself, having fun and making memories. He’s having the time of his life. "It’s like he has this gravitational pull,” said Jamie Fox, a former Sooner softball player who was an FCA officer with McCoy. "He’s just so fun loving and so fun to be around, you want to be in his presence.” Talk about a big man on campus. College is the best time of your life. Thing is, most people realize that after they’re done with it. McCoy realizes it now. He spices up volleyball games and soccer matches with his raucous support. He challenges his buddies to video-game battles. He turns icebreaker games at FCA meetings into a good-natured, life-or-death competition. He even wore Cupid’s wings to a basketball game on Valentine’s Day. How is it that a guy who turned down NFL millions still acts like he won the lottery?
‘College is fun’Playing professional football has been a goal for Gerald McCoy since he was young. "I’m going to go to the NFL,” he has long told himself as if saying it would make it so. Yet when he had the opportunity to go and live out his dream earlier this year, he turned it down. He said no to the NFL and yes to another year at OU. "I always said once I decided to come back, I wouldn’t regret it,” McCoy said, "but you always look. "Draft day, I was kind of like, ‘Eck.’” That’s because three defensive tackles were taken in the first round, including one in the top 10. McCoy had been projected to be among the best draft-eligible defensive tackles, maybe even the top one. McCoy wondered if maybe he’d made the wrong decision, if maybe he should’ve jumped to the pros after all. For a couple of weeks, the doubt crept in and the sinking feeling lingered. Then summer school and off-season workouts started. That changed everything. "I was like, ‘I’m happy I came back,’” he said. "I would’ve missed college. College is fun.” McCoy makes sure of it. He dances around during warm-ups at football practice. He cracks a joke if he walks into a class and everyone’s sitting in silence. He teases teammates all the time. And yes, he dressed up like Cupid last February for the men’s basketball game against Texas Tech. Who gets credit for that? "It wasn’t me,” McCoy’s longtime roommate and fellow defensive tackle Adrian Taylor said, laughing. "I would love to take credit for it, but it wasn’t me.” Taylor shook his head. "He could be snobby or whatever ... but he’s not. He’s just a down-to-earth guy. "That comes from his family.”
‘He has a bright future’Gerald McCoy never saw his father be unkind to anyone and never knew his mother to turn down anyone in need. His parents, Gerald Sr. and Patricia, were his role models when he was a kid growing up in Oklahoma City. They were hard-working, church-going people, so he became that way. They were friendly, so he is friendly. They were helpful and loving, so he is helpful and loving. And he hasn’t let his football success change those things. Jennifer Jarvis-Denny met McCoy during his first semester at OU. Then, he was just a redshirting freshman who needed help with Spanish. He started going to the foreign language center for athletes where Jarvis-Denny is the director. Sometimes, he came in several times a day. He wasn’t content with simply passing. Fast forward a couple years. His redshirt year was far behind him, and McCoy had become a Sooner star. Still, he came to Jarvis-Denny when he was taking a difficult Spanish class. He had a chance to pull an A but ended up with a B-plus instead. "Gerald, a B in that class is amazing,” Jarvis-Denny told him, "especially with your rigorous schedule.” He wasn’t buying it. "Yeah,” McCoy said, frustration in his voice, "but I could’ve had that A.” McCoy admits that good grades don’t come easily for him. He re-reads assignments. He seeks tutoring. He takes notes and uses flashcards and does what needs to be done. "Gerald is a very diligent student who takes his academic success seriously,” said A. Byron Coleman III, who taught McCoy in his African-American Male class. "Anyone who meets Gerald can tell from the first impression that he has a bright future in whatever career he chooses.” Jarvis-Denny, who also taught McCoy in Spanish class, said, "(Athletes) have so many demands on them. It’s just great to see somebody manage it as well as Gerald McCoy does.” The thing is, he isn’t content with just being a student-athlete. He knows there’s more to life, and like opponents on Saturdays, he attacks it.
‘He has a way about him’Gerald McCoy makes plenty of appearances on the jumbotrons during football games, but it isn’t always for replays and highlights. He is the main character in a promotional video for Sooner Nation, a program that rewards students for attending OU athletic events. The spot shows him running all over campus to different events. At one point, a gymnast says, "We see you at all the athletic events.” That might’ve just been a line in a script, but it’s true. "I’m the volleyball team’s biggest fan,” he said. "I go to soccer games when I can. I even went to wrestling last year. "One time, I was driving on a Sunday and saw lacrosse. I was like, ‘We’ve got lacrosse? I’m going to watch this.’” Much like in high school when he was a fixture at every Southeast event, McCoy stands and cheers whether he’s among dozens of fans or thousands of him. He loves being part of anything and everything OU. And it’s not just sports. Last summer, he worked for Camp Crimson, an overnight freshman orientation program on campus. This fall, he serves as president of OU’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, speaks regularly at churches and youth groups and helps with community service projects as part of Bridge Builders, a campus group for minority student-athletes. No wonder the university wanted McCoy to be in its institutional spot holding that ballerina. "When I called Coach Stoops to let him know we wanted to invite Gerald ... ,” OU president David Boren said, "his response was, ‘I’m so glad you want to have Gerald because he demonstrates the kind of character we hope to build in our football program.’” How does McCoy manage everything? "To be honest, I don’t sleep much,” he said. "I know that’s not good, but my body ... I guess I’ve just grown used to it. Getting four hours of sleep is nothing to me. I can function all day.” When he goes home on a break, McCoy sleeps into the afternoon. Sometimes, his dad comes home from work and finds him still in bed. That isn’t the case when McCoy is on campus. "When I’m at full stride,” he said, "I’m at full stride.” He embraces the fact that he’s a student, an athlete, even a superstar. McCoy was one of the last players to leave the field after the spring game because he was signing autographs. He is always requested for interviews, and he doesn’t duck them or cut them short. A rare exception came earlier this year at Big 12 media days. Bradford and Gresham didn’t want to do extra one-on-one videos, and in a show of solidarity, McCoy refused, too. While some well-known college athletes see fame as a burden, McCoy considers it a blessing. "My father always said, ‘You only get it one time. It doesn’t come back around, so enjoy it while it’s here,’” McCoy said. "I have fun with it.” Does he ever. Not even the fans are immune from occasionally being part of it. "Gerald McCoy, right?” someone will approach and ask. "Nah, it’s not me,” he will reply. "Yeah, I think ... ” "No, you’ve got the wrong person.” "Well, you look like him.” "I appreciate that.” Not so long ago, Jarvis-Denny bumped into McCoy. The Spanish professor happened to be with her 11-year-old son, who is big for his age. He plays football and is a defensive lineman. "Stick with it,” McCoy told him. "You can do well.” Rare is the 21-year-old who can connect with children, peers and adults. It takes a special personality to be able to relate to people of all ages. Gerald McCoy is special. "He has a way about him that disarms people,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said. "He’s so big sometimes people may be intimidated. But when he flashes that smile ... he puts people at ease.”
‘A real role model’Gerald McCoy is having the time of his life. Sure, he wishes that the Sooners were undefeated right now. He hates that two of his good friends, Bradford and Gresham, have been injured this season. He refuses to let that sour him on this season or this team. "He tries to make the best out of everything and look at the good side and make everything fun,” freshman defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland said. "He’s a real role model. He has that same dedicated push and same dedicated leadership without all the falseness.” False? McCoy? "He is a ‘Little Mermaid’ fan,” said Tabitha Brown, who was an FCA officer last year with McCoy. "He has no qualms or shame about it at all. It’s what he likes.” Gerald McCoy is genuine, the real deal. That’s the case whether he’s playing football or going to class, speaking to a youth group or even playing a silly game during an FCA huddle. "What impresses me the most is the kind of person he is,” Boren said. "We have never had a student-athlete who combines athletic excellence with off-the-field contributions any better than Gerald does.”