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Veteran overcomes struggles to succeed with UNT football team

Veteran overcomes struggles to succeed with UNT football team

Veteran overcomes struggles to succeed with UNT football team
October 31
09:31 2013

Tim Cato / Sports Editor

Kicked out of his house for using drugs, overweight to the point where his mother didn’t immediately recognize him and in a depressed state of mind, Brandon McCoy realized that if he didn’t make a change, there was only one direction his life was headed.

Although his father had talked about him joining the military, McCoy didn’t break the news of his decision to his parents until after he had already visited the recruitment office and enlisted in March 2004.

“If I hadn’t gone into the military, I would probably be in jail, or I probably would be dead.” McCoy said.

After completing a five-year stint with the Army in 2008 – including 13 months in a combat zone in Iraq – McCoy came to UNT to earn a his degree. He walked onto the football team in 2010. A recreation and leisure studies graduate student, 6-foot-2-inch McCoy is a healthy 257 pounds and a key starter at defensive end.

McCoy, nicknamed “Sarge,” was nominated for the Armed Forces Merit Award on Oct. 17, culminating his nine-year comeback story. The Football Writers Association of America presents the award to a person in the realm of football who provided an impact in the armed forces.

Military Man

After leaving home, McCoy’s life was in shambles. Approaching his house from a distance, his mother, Toni McCoy, said she didn’t immediately recognize her youngest son.

“Brandon got so depressed – he ended up gaining 60 to 70 pounds,” Toni McCoy said. “The turning point had to be when he was separated from us with his friends and wanted to come back, but he knew he couldn’t come back the same way he left.”

Enrolling in the military helped give structure and purpose to McCoy’s life as he matured into the 28-year-old man he is now.

His parents prayed constantly for the well-being of McCoy and his security unit, which did not suffer a single fatality during McCoy’s tour. His father, Darron, and mother were astounded by the transformation Brandon underwent during his time in the Army.

“His mindset and the way he processes things has changed tremendously,” Toni McCoy said. “Sometimes, when he’s home, we’re having a conversation, and after he leaves my husband and I look at each other and say, ‘is that our son Brandon talking like that?’”

Locker Room Leader

As a husband and father of two sons, McCoy is easily the oldest player in the football locker room – 10 years older than many of the freshmen. He sees an opportunity to be a role model and help the younger players avoid making the same mistakes he did – “like an uncle,” he said with a laugh.

“I talk to those players a lot, but I don’t talk as if I’m above them or better than them,” McCoy said. “I just point out little things, like, ‘hey, I went down that same path.’”

Head football coach Dan McCarney was immediately impressed with McCoy when he took over the program in 2011.

“He’s humble, he’s appreciative, he’s got great gratitude for the opportunity he got here,” McCarney said. “That gets right back to the character of the young man and how much this team means to him.”

As a vocal member of the locker room, players hold a great deal of respect for McCoy.

“He’s just a natural-born leader,” senior defensive tackle Richard Abbe said. “The way he carries himself and the way he goes about life.”

McCoy isn’t off-limits from a little bit of joking around, though.

“We call him ‘grandpa,’” senior linebacker Zach Orr said. “We joke around and he says, ‘wait until you get to be my age.’ We have a lot of fun with it because he’s the oldest guy, but it’s all love. He’s a mentor to us.”

Looking Ahead

In 39 career games, McCoy has recorded 114 tackles and 10 sacks. He missed one game this year with an injury, but has recorded 17 tackles and leads the team with six quarterback hits in the seven games he has played.

The Armed Forces Merit Award winner will be announced at the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl game in Fort Worth on Dec. 30.

McCoy said he will continue to work out after football season ends, looking for a shot at an invitation to an NFL training camp.

McCoy doesn’t have plans to reenlist, but the impact of his time served is still seen. There are the physical aspects that may or may not leave with time – like keeping his guard up when he’s out in public and having distaste for crowds – but the character lessons he learned will never leave him.

“The military was the biggest part of changing my life,” McCoy said. “It will teach you values, morals, discipline and responsibility. The military really was the foundation of the person I became.”

Feature photo: Master’s Recreation and Leisure Studies Student Brandon McCoy, a defensive lineman, played in 11 games as a freshman and 12 as a sophomore. He was voted a captain by his teammates as a junior in the past season, but injuries limited him to nine games. At the beginning of this season, McCoy has been nominated for the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America. Photo by Zixian Chen / Staff Photographer

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