The Associated Press
TUSCOLA, Texas - They call this McCoy Country - or TuscolTa, with a Texas Longhorn 'T' dropped in for good measure.
This tiny West Texas outpost is home to quarterback Colt McCoy. It doesn’t matter that he’s getting ready to lead his second-ranked Long-horns against No. 1 Alabama for the national title, or that his dad (a coach) moved the family for another job about the same time he left for Austin nearly five years ago.
“I don’t go back probably as much as I should, but when I do I really enjoy it,” McCoy said Sunday in Newport Beach, Calif., where the Longhorns are based this week. “There’s a lot of down-to-earth people. They really keep in touch with me. They support me. That really is pretty neat.
“I wouldn’t change where I came from at all.”
It’s evident his hometown loves McCoy right back.
Visitors turning right in the main hall of Jim Ned High School are greeted by Kay Whitton’s homemade sign: “We (heart) our Big 12/Colt for Heisman.” What isn’t visible is the flip side, created two years ago when it was first taken to a game by McCoy’s favorite teacher: “TuscolTa Pop. 714.”
“I think all 700 people probably have an autograph,” McCoy said.
Whitton teaches business and accounting, but she has a way with words, especially when it comes to McCoy. She and her husband stopped on the side of the road near Austin so she could call in to a radio show that was criticizing McCoy after he struggled in a victory against Oklahoma this season.
“I’ve got his back. They’d better not talk bad about my boy,” Whitton said. “He’s really special to me. And part of that is because I’m special to him.”
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There must be others who are special to McCoy because he keeps coming back. The family ties were severed late in McCoy’s senior year at Jim Ned when Brad McCoy, his dad and coach, took the job at Graham, a bigger school about 125 miles north of Tuscola.
It probably helped that McCoy’s grandfather has a ranch not far from Tuscola, but that wouldn’t explain why McCoy agreed to headline a chamber of commerce fundraiser last spring, long after his celebrity status had kicked in. Students swarm the halls when McCoy shows up, and word spreads quickly when he’s in town.
“They asked Colt to come back and of course he signed autographs forever,” said Jim Ned principal Paul Lippe. “It wasn’t, ’Oh, I’ve got to do this.’ He made all the little guys and even the adults feel special. That’s just to me what is so special about Colt.”
The locals remember the football, too, of course. His coaches and fans had rarely seen anybody better in high school, but they weren’t really any different from skeptics across the state. They too wondered how the scrawny kid who played in front of a couple of thousand people in a big game could even begin to replace Vince Young after the first national championship at Texas in 35 years.
“He came in at 175 pounds and said, ‘I want to be the best you’ve ever coached,”’ Longhorns offensive coordinator Greg Davis recalled. “I thought, ‘Yeah, right. I’ve got Pee-wee Herman here.”’
Having more wins - the most in college football history - and as many national titles as Young? The honest folks of West Texas can’t tell you they even remotely considered such things.
“Small-town kids that grow up thinking about going and playing college ball, they dream those big dreams. But I’m not sure they really understand what that means,” said Hunter Cooley, a Jim Ned administrator who was McCoy’s basketball coach. “To say that I think he’d be in the Heisman conversation for the past three years, that’s definitely a stretch.”
McCoy has shown everyone who believed in him that their faith was well-founded, even setting the NCAA record for passing accuracy in 2008. That was his trademark when he led Jim Ned to the school’s only state championship game appearance in 2003.
The people of Tuscola - sometimes confused with Tuscaloosa, Ala. - and nearby Buffalo Gap, closer to where the McCoys lived, will be watching when he takes his shot at the national title Thursday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.