While reporting on LeSean’s McCoy’s comeback from a devastating injury, talk of his college recruitment inevitably came up during interviews.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt believes the Panthers helped their cause by continuing to recruit McCoy even after his season-ending ankle injury as a senior at Harrisburg’s Bishop McDevitt High School.
“I think it had a lot to do with it,” Wannstedt said. “After he got hurt, I remember getting in touch with Coach (Jeff) Weachter and letting him know that we were going to continue to recruit him. At that time, we weren’t sure where he was going to go to school.
“Once we were told he was going to Milford (Academy), there was a lot of uncertainty. Would his leg heal? Would he be the player he was in the past? Was he going to stick with his commitment to Miami? Was Pitt a school he would seriously look at? The only way to find out was to jump in the middle of it, and that’s what we did.”
But Pitt wasn’t the only school to stay with McCoy.
“Even when he broke his ankle, (Penn State defensive line coach) Larry Johnson was the first person that called,” said Daphne McCoy, LeSean’s mother. “He wanted to know how he was feeling and let us know the offer was still there. Some of the schools already knew he was going to have to go to prep school but kept their offers out there.”
Several people close to McCoy noted that he was strongly leaning toward Penn State until he visited Pitt. Daphne McCoy took issue with those who believe that McCoy picked Pitt because it was his only offer.
“The announcers keep saying LeSean came to Pitt because other schools backed off. That’s not true at all,” she said. “LeSean was going to go to Penn State. Whatever Joe Paterno wanted, he was going to do.
“He had an official visit at Pitt, and decided he wasn’t going to go. His father (Ron) told him, ‘You gave them your word you were coming, so you’re going to keep your word. You’re going to go visit.’ He grumbled in the car the whole ride to Pitt.”
McCoy couldn’t have anticipated the reception he received, and catered to Pitt’s student section when he wrote a check.
“We never even expected Pittsburgh. To the day he went on his visit, it was all Penn State. We just accepted it. The coaches recruited him so hard and he really enjoyed it,” said LeRon McCoy, LeSean’s older brother and a receiver for the San Francisco 49ers. “It’s funny because I’ve heard people say Joe Paterno didn’t want to give him a scholarship. That’s the furthest from the truth. He was set to go there. Once he got to Pitt, the fans, students, coaches and players made him feel like it was like home.
“He’s always had a lot of hype. He disappeared from the scene a little bit. When he came to Pitt, it was like McDevitt all over again.”
McCoy got caught up in the adulation and verbally committed to the Panthers during his visit.
“He got there and he liked it. Friday night, he said to me, ‘Mom, I think I might commit,’” Daphne McCoy said. “He said the players made him feel like they wanted him there, that he could come in and help their team. At Penn State, it was like, ‘You can come if you want.’ They were like, ‘If you’re coming, you’re taking somebody’s place.’ He had his mind set. He was going to Penn State. I’m glad he didn’t. Many days I remind him.”
Milford Academy coach Bill Chaplick gave Pitt props for its recruitment of McCoy. The Panthers, he said, made McCoy a priority and treated him like royalty.
“They recruited him harder than anybody else,” Chaplick said. “I would give them a hat’s off, triple-A, 110 percent. They recruited him like he was the only kid in the country. At the time, that made LeSean feel good.
“He came back (from his official visit) and had stars in his eyes. A lot of it had to do with the way the student body treated him. They made him feel like he was the guy.”
And McCoy rewarded that treatment by keeping his word, despite pressure from other schools to renege on his commitment just before signing day.
It’s a decision that has paid off already for McCoy, who leads all freshmen in rushing at 118.3 yards a game this season and hasn’t expressed any regrets.
“I think LeSean is his own guy,” Chaplick said. “I don’t think LeSean is the kind of guy who looks back. He looks forward, which is what makes a great running back.”