Christian faith fuels Heisman front-runner Colt McCoy

University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy is a household name to college football fans. Playing for one of the highest profile programs in the nation would elevate the name recognition under ordinary circumstances. McCoy’s circumstances are anything but ordinary. He passed up on becoming a likely first-round NFL pick to return to Texas this fall for his senior season. The rewards to date have been numerous. The Longhorns are 4-0 and ranked second in most national polls behind defending national champion Florida. While notable obstacles remain, including the annual showdown with arch-rival Oklahoma in Dallas (Oct. 17), a visit to Oklahoma State (Oct. 31) and a presumptive date in the Big XII Conference title game, Texas is on the fast track for a spot in the BCS National Championship game come January. McCoy’s statistics through the first month of the season are robust. He’s completed 71 percent of his passes for 1,145 yards and nine touchdowns. The numbers put him on pace to throw for well over 3,000 yards for the third straight year. It also has him in line to return to New York City for the second consecutive December as a Heisman Trophy finalist. McCoy and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow were runners-up last year to Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford for the Heisman. In 2007, as a sophomore, Tebow won the Heisman. The signal-calling trio entered 2009 as the three odds-on favorites to compete for the sport’s top individual honor again this year, but the race has already changed dramatically. Bradford suffered a shoulder injury in a season-opening loss to BYU and has yet to return to game action. Tebow has been spectacular for the top-ranked Gators, but a concussion suffered two weeks ago at Kentucky has his status for a difficult game Saturday at No. 4 LSU in doubt. While the Heisman race will likely have many twists and turns over the next two months, one issue that won’t change is the Christian faith publicly espoused by all three players. Tebow’s father, Bob, has run the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association for decades, and Tim’s international mission trips and other Christian service work in Florida have consistently shone a national spotlight on his faith. Bradford, too, has spoken openly about his faith and talked about how God has had a profound impact in his life. McCoy was raised in a traditional Christian household by his parents Brad and Debra. The legend of childhood extends to his birth when it’s rumored Brad put a shoebox of Texas dirt under his son’s hospital crib in Hobbs, N.M., so he could claim he was born on Texas soil. “I can’t remember, I was a little baby,” McCoy joked in an Arizona Republic story in January. “That’s what my folks say. The story is he had it in a shoebox and stuck it under the bed. Nobody’s said it wasn’t true, so I guess it’s true.” While McCoy may enjoy being sly about the dirt story, he’s anything but when it comes to his faith or his relationship with his father. On his official UT bio he lists Brad as his biggest football influence, and with good reason. Brad coached Colt at Jim Ned High School in tiny Tuscola, Texas, where he led his team to a state championship his senior year. Brad is now the athletic director and football coach at Graham High School in Graham, Texas, and he discussed his son’s faith background with Everyday Christian via e-mail. Colt has been an active church member since his youth and has been noted for numerous community service efforts in Austin while at UT. It’s not by happenstance. “His faith is his base for everything,” Brad McCoy said. “It keeps him balanced so the highs of prominence and the lows of disappointment don’t really change his thoughts or actions. His faith makes him a stronger leader.” His off-the-field efforts haven’t been ignored in the public eye either, according to Suzanne Halliburton. Halliburton is the UT football beat writer for the Austin American-Statesman. “A lot of Longhorn players have done community service work,” Halliburton told Everyday Christian. “Some of it’s been associated with their class work. Other projects have continued after the class ended. And none of it’s been done for publicity. Texas has had five players travel abroad for mission work since March. “I think Colt wants to give back because he feels blessed. He’s probably done more community service work than any quarterback I’ve covered.” Part of that identity has been forged by mission trips the past two years to Peru. Brad McCoy said it has grounded his son in dramatic ways. “The one major thing Colt has learned from his Peru experiences is that he will never complain about his life here in America,” Brad said. “The poverty of the kids he worked with was overwhelming but their attitude of happiness was what amazed him. “He said most people don’t have a clue how people in this world live and the conditions they survive under. It gave him a great perspective on his circumstances and how much we all have and sometimes are not thankful for. He is very mindful of our blessings.” Halliburton concurred. “What strikes me when I talk to him about the trips is the sense of how much joy and satisfaction he’s received from helping others,” she said. “He told me about the first trip a couple of days before he left. Then it took me six weeks to get him to sit down for an interview. He was pounded with classes and finals. “My point is he didn’t do it for the publicity or a Heisman hook. He just signed up for it and did it. Then he quietly went back.” The often intangible leadership qualities which blossomed out of his mission experiences are apparent to Brad. “He has worked to be the kind of person others want to follow most of his life,” Brad said. “He has seen the strengths of great leaders and the weaknesses of negative leaders and is a great learner. His character has been shaped by his experiences growing up. His maturity, personality and faith have all played a big part in his role at UT as the team leader.” The off-the-field efforts further magnify the success Colt has guided the Longhorns to on the gridiron. “The fans like Colt because of the wins,” Halliburton said. “They like him because he carved out his own identity after following a Longhorn legend — (Tennessee Titans QB) Vince Young — at quarterback. I think Colt has led Texas to 10 come-from-behind victories. When Colt started his career at Texas, he looked about 16, if that. The Longhorn fans have watched him grow up, and in the process, he’s developed into an excellent football player and role model. “I think his entire personality appeals to Texas fans. His faith is part of his personality.” Brad and Debra are obviously important members of that fan base, and it’s their own faith that allows them to tamp down their nerves about watching their son perform on an elite level. “If it were not for our faith, his mom and I couldn’t watch like we do,” Brad said. “We are very proud of the player he is but more important the man he has become. We pray for his health and safety and have to have faith that he will be blessed. “It is a tough game and we know that, but we also know that God has a purpose for us all according to his calling and our family will always try to put that calling first in our lives, and Colt is a big part of the family.” The next stop for Colt is undoubtedly the NFL. As a likely high first-round pick in next April’s draft, he’ll stand to be a multi-millionaire almost overnight. Brad said he has already spoken to high-profile Christians with long NFL backgrounds for guidance in advance of the life-changing transition. He said Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and recently retired Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy are role models, and Brad indicated Colt has spoken to at least one of them. “I feel that Colt will always use his stature as a football player as a platform to identify Jesus Christ as the savior of the world,” Brad said “He was an advocate in high school, in college and I know without a doubt he will do the same in the NFL if God chooses to use him in that venue. “He understands he has been blessed with a talent and believes he should give it all back to his maker. He has taken notice of those guys that are already there and their influence in the league and how they live their lives and stand up for their faith. Some of those you mentioned have contacted Colt let him know the same thing, and to encourage him to stay the course and continue to play and live with faith and character.” Link: University of Texas bio for Colt McCoy: http://www.mackbrown-texasfootball.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/mccoy_colt00.html

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