Brandon McCoy stood in front of a room full of friends and family on Monday and reflected on how far he traveled to arrive at one of the most prestigious honors of his college career.
McCoy spent four and a half years in the Army after a troubled childhood and four years developing into one of North Texas’ top players and leaders.
The journey changed McCoy’s life and caught the attention of the Football Writers Association of America, which presented him with the Armed Forces Merit Award on Veterans Day at Apogee Stadium.
“It is pretty special,” McCoy said. “I have been working at this dream for a long time. I have been telling guys since I was in the fields in Iraq that I was going to go play college football and give it all that I’ve got. I never thought I would be honored. It’s really humbling.”
McCoy, 28, was kicked out of two high schools and his home in Carrollton before his family convinced him that enlisting in the Army might be his best outlet to change his life.
McCoy, who is known as “Sarge” by UNT’s coaches and his teammates, fell too far behind at Carrollton Creekview to graduate on time in 2003 and was dismissed from an alternative high school for cheating on an English test. He lived on his own for a year before his family convinced him to enlist in the army.
“He didn’t want to listen,” said Darron McCoy, Brandon’s father. “We thought the military would be a good idea to give him structure.”
McCoy spent time in Fort Riley, Kan., before spending 13 months driving Humvees on supply runs and in combat missions in Iraq.
“The military was at the forefront of changing me,” McCoy said. “You have to give yourself up for others, care about them and give without expecting anything in return.”
Those principles stuck with McCoy after he was discharged from the Army and enrolled at UNT. He went through the walk-on program with the Mean Green, made the team and has developed into an impact player.
McCoy has 24 tackles and leads the Mean Green with six quarterback hurries this season. The 6-foot-2, 257-pound defensive end might have an even bigger impact as a leader because of the way his teammates admire him.
“We always joke with him that he was playing high school football when we were playing pee-wee,” UNT running back Brandin Byrd said. “He brings a wisdom to the team. When he talks, people pay attention. He has the respect of the guys.”
McCoy has that respect despite living a far different life from his teammates. McCoy is married and has two young sons. Tyson Alexander is 13 months old, while Benjamin Cash was born late last month.
McCoy’s wife, Teresa McCoy, attended the news conference with both of the couple’s sons and their parents.
“Whenever he is home he wants to be with the kids,” Teresa McCoy said. “I am really proud of him.”
UNT head coach Dan McCarney and McCoy’s teammates credit him for helping set the tone for the Mean Green during a turnaround season that has seen the Mean Green roll to a 7-3 start.
“McCoy brings so much toughness and pride and appreciates the opportunity he received here,” McCarney said. “He’s a joy to be around. Sarge has more impact on this team than he realizes.”
McCoy’s teammates often tease him about being older and a little more conservative. They finally convinced him last week that he didn’t celebrate enough after making big plays.
“I never celebrate or been a showboat kind of guy,” McCoy said. “If I get a sack or a tackle, I just line back up. All the young guys were telling me I had no swag, that I had to do something.”
McCoy did Satuday in UNT’s win over UTEP, when he turned to the sideline after each of his two sacks and saluted the crowd.
McCoy received a salute on Veterans Day at the end of a long journey he first dreamed of completing while serving in Iraq.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.