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Talking Pitt Football: LeSean McCoy

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When he awakes every morning, LeSean McCoy looks in the mirror and thinks about his life’s blessings. Not the compound ankle fracture that sidelined him as a senior at Harrisburg’s Bishop McDevitt High School and prevented McCoy from becoming the state’s all-time leading rusher. Not the year he had to spend at Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y., to become academically eligible.

“This is a blessing. It’s like God is blessing me with another chance to showcase my talent,” McCoy said. “I’m totally focused. I want to show everybody it wasn’t a fluke. It’s like, time’s up: What’s LeSean going to do? That’s what I think about every morning when I wake up. I’m doing this for a reason.”

Now that he and quarterback Pat Bostick have enrolled early at Pitt, the 6-foot, 208-pound McCoy is intent on proving he’s as good as advertised. Or better. That McCoy was ranked the nation’s top tailback prospect before his season-ending injury has Panthers fans talking about him as if he were the second coming of Tony Dorsett.

Such talk has dogged the careers of lesser backs at Pitt (and, to be fair, practically everyone is a lesser back when compared to Dorsett). But McCoy is Pitt’s highest-rated tailback recruit since Valley’s Brandon Williams, who, like Dorsett, started the first game of his college career but ended up playing outside linebacker.

McCoy harbors no such illusions.

“To be honest with you, I really don’t think about Dorsett because he’s so far ahead of everybody,” McCoy said. “Coming here with a bunch of hype, I’m just going to play hard, do my best and, hopefully, with the grace of God, I’ll do some good.”

If McCoy needed perspective, he got it from his brother, LeRon, who plays receiver for the Arizona Cardinals. LeRon McCoy, like his baby brother, was a Division I-caliber player who did not qualify and instead went to Indiana (Pa.). When McCoy – who prefers to be called by his nickname, Shady – confided to LeRon his concerns, big brother told him to embrace the spotlight because he deserved it.

“Honestly, I was a little worried that it was too much pressure,” McCoy said. “I talked to my brother and he told me, ‘That’s what you want. You worked for it all your life. You worked to get it. Don’t shy away from it.’”

If that didn’t get Shady’s attention, LeRon’s 18th birthday present for his baby brother did. LeRon took Shady to Puerto Rico last summer (although he’s two years removed from high school, Shady doesn’t turn 19 until July) with several of his Cardinals teammates.

“The crazy thing is I went on vacation with some of the guys and heard stories they have to tell about the life they live,” McCoy said. “You want that life so bad. It makes you want it so bad. You want to do everything possible to live the way they live.”

Talk about motivation. And pressure. Not only does McCoy have to live up to a brother who made it to the NFL, he inherits the jersey number of an NFL first-round draft pick, the No. 25 worn by two-time All-Big East cornerback Darrelle Revis of the N.Y. Jets. (Pitt safety Irv Brown wears No. 20, McCoy’s number at McDevitt).

Revis, in a roundabout way, had something to do with McCoy coming to Pitt. It wasn’t so much the impact Revis had on McCoy personally, but what he did for McCoy’s best friend, Aaron Berry, a former Bishop McDevitt teammate. Revis took Berry, his successor, under his wing last season and taught him the ropes. Berry, in turn, had only positive things to say about Pitt to McCoy.

“AB had a lot to do with it, too,” McCoy said. “He won’t just tell me anything. He’ll tell me the truth.”

McCoy hopes for similar tutelage from incumbent LaRod Stephens-Howling, even though he will be competing for playing time with the Johnstown Jet.

“It’s kind of different. He had a good year, got to watch the best corner in the country in Darrelle Revis,” McCoy said of Berry. “He got to sit and learn. I’m going to have to play and learn at the same time. LaRod is a special guy, very smart. Hopefully, he’ll help me out with teaching me the offense.”

The reception McCoy got on his official visit to Pitt last January had a lot to do with his decision to pick the Panthers over Penn State. It wasn’t just the Oakland Zoo chanting “We Want Shady” or holding a hand-made sign asking him to join Pitt’s recruiting class with a blank box next to his name (to their delight, McCoy checked it emphatically during the live airing of ESPN’s GameDay).

“I’m used to fans acting like that. It was more the players and coaches,” McCoy said. “The coaches were so cool. It wasn’t like they just do that for a recruiting trip. It’s like that all the time. I’ve been to schools all over the country. I don’t think the coaches are as cool as Pitt.

“Coach (Dave) Wannstedt, I can go into his office and talk any time. And the players really were cool. At some places, they were jealous.”

McCoy revealed that even after he verbally committed to Pitt, several schools continued recruiting him. He almost took an official visit to Florida, but later reconsidered. McCoy declined to go into detail about Penn State, but did say it was a finalist.

“It was always Pitt, Penn State and Florida,” McCoy said. “I always liked Pitt, but they weren’t winning too much. But they had some top recruiting classes. When I visited, I was like, ‘Whoa, Pitt has a lot to offer.’”

Since arriving on campus, McCoy said he sees a different side of the Panthers, who are 11-12 the past two seasons, and much of it has to do with the mental toughness strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris is instilling in the team this off-season.

“The guys are ready to change things around,” McCoy said. “The guys always mention how Rutgers changed things around and we can do the same. The guys are all serious, stepping up to be leaders. Their whole mind frame is totally different. The next couple weeks are going to get real intense.”

The pressure is something McCoy is welcoming, knowing that he can play a major role in helping the Panthers return to playing championship-caliber football.

“My personal goals? First, to have a winning season; I really want to play well,” McCoy said. “And I want to have a big impact for my team.”

That would be another blessing, for McCoy and Pitt.

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