TAMPA — At the University of Oklahoma, he arrived at a men’s basketball game dressed as Cupid on Valentine’s Day, complete with wings on his back.
When he was drafted by the Buccaneers, he hugged Roger Goodell so hard, the NFL commissioner thought he might fall off the stage at Radio City Music Hall.
He reported to Tampa Bay’s training camp last month wearing a terry-cloth bathrobe and brown bedroom slippers, saying he might as well get comfortable.
Growing up in Oklahoma City, he would walk around the house in a Batman cape or pretend he was one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, trying to rescue April O’Neil.
Which persona is the Real McCoy?
All of ’em, of course.
“Gerald wasn’t mischievous as a little kid,’’ said his father, Gerald Sr. “He was just busy.’’
Donatello has grown up to be the unquestioned leader of the Bucs, a 26-year-old face of the franchise whose pro career appeared in jeopardy in 2012 after a pair of injury-ravaged seasons.
“It’s easy for Gerald to lead, and easy for guys to follow him,’’ Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. “He does everything right.’’
❖ ❖ ❖
THE THIRD OVERALL pick in the 2010 draft, McCoy was raised by Gerald Sr. and his mom, Patricia, who died in 2007 of complications from a brain aneurysm at the age of 53.
She never saw her only son excel as a defensive tackle at Oklahoma, but Patricia McCoy was present at every game.
“My mom and dad raised me to have confidence,’’ McCoy said. “When I was a kid, I was overweight, so my confidence wasn’t as high, but my parents always encouraged and supported me.’’
While growing up with his two older sisters, Nicki and Kym, McCoy soon learned the three tenets of F Troop: family, faith and football.
“It’s our parents’ doing,’’ Nicki said. “That’s the type of leader they molded. They led us by example. Any time we doubted ourselves. they would build us up. All these years later, I’m very proud of my brother — he’s an inspiration to me.’’
When your daughter is born two days before you announce your collegiate intentions on National Signing Day, you grow up in a hurry. McCoy was a father at age 17, embracing his new role with excitement and some trepidation.
“You have to mature early on, but being a parent opens your eyes to a lot,’’ he said. “It was tough at first. My parents told me I made that decision and now I’m going to have to live with it. Did I have their support? Of course I did, but they said this is what comes when making decisions like that ... now go handle it.’’
McCoy and Ebony married in June of 2013, and they are the parents of Nevaeh (heaven spelled backwards), Marcellus Crutchfield and 6-week-old twins Gerald and Germany,
“Ebony has been the buffer for my son,’’ Gerald Sr. said. “She buffs out all the rough edges on him. They blend together so well and they’re a good match. I’d say they are of one piece.’’
Together, McCoy and the girl he had his eye on since seventh grade are determined to share their good fortune with others.
Just before Christmas last year, they gathered 10 single mothers and their kids for a holiday surprise, providing gifts, a shopping spree and Publix gift cards to make holiday meals.
“I don’t think anybody could ever understand how amazing it is to be able to make a difference in someone’s life,” Ebony said. “This is something I think they’ll always remember.”
❖ ❖ ❖
THAT SPIRIT OF giving has been with McCoy for quite a while.
“When Gerald was in the eighth grade, we knew right away he’d be a better player than anyone else,’’ said Tom Trammell, a member of the football staff at Southeast High. “By his senior year, he was the head of FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), working to help urban kids get out of gangs.’’
McCoy said he was stunned when his Oklahoma teammates voted him defensive captain in his sophomore season. In 2012, after missing 13 of 32 games because he tore a different bicep in each of his first two pro seasons, McCoy was selected a team captain by the Bucs.
“You know your role, and you play it until that role changes,’’ McCoy said. “I worked extremely hard for my role to change in Tampa. And once it changed, there was no turning back. When I got voted team captain in my third year, I looked around and went ‘Huh?’ But then I remembered this is the same thing that happened to me at Oklahoma.
“That lets you know people notice the work you’re putting in and how I carry myself. It would be a slap in the face not to step up, because my teammates are basically asking me to do this.’’
Two years and two Pro Bowls later, McCoy’s leadership role is even more pronounced under new coach Lovie Smith.
“He does the right things all the time,’’ said Bucs safety Dashon Goldson, an eight-year veteran. “He’s always the first one out to practice and the last one off the field. Gerald motivates our young guys to get better. He’s a vocal leader who backs it up with his play, for sure.’’
Those first two disappointing seasons are never far from McCoy’s mind.
“My only question heading into 2012 was whether my arms were going to hold up,’’ he said. “Am I going to get injured again? I’ve never questioned my talent, although it’s always taken me a while to pick things up. That’s why I redshirted when I got to Oklahoma. After those first two years in Tampa, I worked hard not to let negative thoughts creep in, but it was hard.
“You walk around the locker room and you see guys wanting new contracts, veterans who have been playing for a while and here’s this young guy who makes more than anybody — and he isn’t even on the field. You wonder whether your GM (Mark Dominik) thinks he made the wrong decision when he drafted you.’’
❖ ❖ ❖
NOBODY SMILES MORE often or more broadly in the Bucs locker room than No. 93. He’s a big kid, loving life after trading in that Batman mask for a pewter helmet.
“When he was 5, Gerald knew how to work the VCR,’’ Gerald Sr. said. “At 21⁄2, he would study how people would put stuff in the microwave and take their food out a minute later. He’d see me watching a college football game and ask how those players got to be there. I’d tell him, ‘Son, those players are you.’ You have no idea how driven he was to play this sport.
“And his heart is so big and caring. He happens to be a football player, but he’s a gentle giant. He feels like all the players on the field are the grunts, the soldiers, and he has so much respect for each one.’’
That respect was bred in an Oklahoma City home that McCoy’s high school football coach came to know.
“Gerald’s folks were so supportive, not just of him but for the entire program at Southeast,’’ Mike Branch said. “The most upset I ever saw Gerald was after he realized he had played his last high school game. He had developed such a bond with his teammates that it was very emotional for him.’’
Branch attended Gerald and Ebony’s wedding, which was a big deal in Oklahoma City last summer.
“They invited me, and I thought that showed a lot,’’ he said. “So often, players leave home and forget everybody. Not Gerald McCoy.’’
McCoy doesn’t need any reminders about his enhanced role with the Bucs, on and off the field. It’s just the way he was raised.
“We always encouraged (our children) to be leaders, not followers,’’ Patricia McCoy told the Oklahoman in 2005. “You don’t fall in behind people, you make people follow you.’’
❖ ❖ ❖
McCOY KNOWS PEOPLE are watching. Teammates, coaches and Bucs fans are looking for an elite defender to set the tone for a struggling organization.
At home, it’s the same story.
“Me and my wife could be watching a movie and suddenly you hear your kid say what you said or do what you did,’’ he said. “Even with clothes, I’ll walk past my son’s room and he’s putting his stuff on just like me. You always have to be conscious that parenting is 24/7. It never stops.’’
During a 4-12 season that ushered in changes at the top and a roster overhaul, McCoy knew people were watching.
He never wavered, and neither did his play.
“It’s a Bible principle, something my parents taught me and something I teach my kids,’’ McCoy said. “Whether you agree with something or not, when something is set in place you obey, because that authority was set in place from God. Regardless of what the coach (Greg Schiano) was doing, I’m going to follow it and push it 100 percent. Same thing with coach Smith. I’m the last person you’re going to find saying ‘No, we’re not doing it.’ ’’
According to Nicki McCoy, her kid brother is “always hungry,’’ never satisfied.
“He’s striving to be a Hall of Fame player,’’ she said. “And he won’t be stopped. Ebony has pushed him, too. Anyone in a relationship with a professional athlete has to be strong. Ebony always has Gerald’s back ... he knows that.’’
And McCoy has Tampa’s back. He’s been a Bucs fan going back to the franchise’s glory days, when defensive tackle Warren Sapp was building a Hall of Fame career to rival former Sooners legend Lee Roy Selmon.
“We’ve got the best fans in the country,’’ McCoy said. “All they want to do is win, and you can’t blame them. Tampa’s had some rough times, but for a span, Tampa was the one. My message to the guys is, if you don’t know the history of this town, you need to go back and learn it.
One thing we can’t do is try to be like them. We can only be the best we can be. For the most part, I just love to have fun. Life’s too short. This career is too short. You’ve got to enjoy it while you’ve got it.’’