J.D. McCoy would rather think about Nov. 23, the day the Missouri football team finished an encouraging season with an embarrassing 38-0 loss to Kansas State, than the months that followed.
When he tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee that day, it wasn’t as hard to bear. Everyone else was upset, too.
When March came, though, McCoy, a 6-foot-1, 258-pound senior tight end, was rehabilitating his knee and couldn’t fully participate in his final set of spring drills. He had started five of 12 games in 2002 and not being able to show coaches he could start all of them the next year was hard.
“I battled some confidence issues there for a while,” McCoy said.
McCoy practiced after spring break and played in a few scrimmages but sat out the spring Black and Gold game. In preseason camp, his knee was at full strength, but he was dragging during the first week in end-of-practice sprints. Also, tight ends Victor Sesay and DeQuincy Howard were having impressive camps.
“I started out in camp kind of slow, but then I just decided it’s my senior year,” McCoy said. “I just started having fun with things.”
Because he wasn’t able to do what he wanted done in the offseason, McCoy recognized that Sesay, a junior college transfer, and Howard, a redshirt freshman, could take his starting spot. Each sat out part of preseason practices because of injuries.
“This is a business for the coaches; this is their job,” McCoy said. “They’re going to try to bring the best guys to play the positions. I just took it as an obstacle to overcome.”
Sesay (6-6) and Howard (6-4) have several inches on McCoy. Sesay, a second-team junior college All-American at Ventura (Calif.) College last season, caught 20 passes for three touchdowns. McCoy, from Moore, Okla., caught eight passes in 2002 but received more recognition for his blocking abilities.
Tight ends coach Bruce Walker said incorporating the tight ends into the offense isn’t a specific goal for the Tigers, but he sees it as an advantage.
“I think you’re better off offensively spreading the ball around a little bit,” Walker said.
McCoy agreed, and said he wants to improve on his total from last season.
“Everyone loves catching the ball. That’s like your reward,” McCoy said. “Blocking’s fun, too, but then when you catch the ball it’s a great feeling.”
In the Tigers’ 22-15 win against Illinois on Saturday, McCoy started and caught a 14-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter, he snapped the ball on a “Polecat right” two-point conversion play. His coaches have confidence in him.
“He’s come a long way,” Walker said. “He’s really matured and come along and become a quality and productive player in the Big 12. He’s worked hard; he deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Sesay played Saturday and caught two passes for 3 yards. Before he went in for the first time, Sesay said McCoy pulled him aside and told him to prepare himself for the intense atmosphere in the Edward Jones Dome.
“He tells me about everything,” Sesay said. “He’s one of those guys when you’re watching tape, you just want to watch it and see how he’s doing things; you just want to do it just like the way he does it.”