Answering the Call

Senior LeRon McCoy looked forward to hearing his name called in the NFL draft. He never did, not that he’s complaining.

LeRon McCoy

McCoy was speaking on the telephone with Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green when the team selected him in the seventh round, the 226th player chosen overall. Bedlam soon reigned at the McCoy residence in Harrisburg.

“The weird thing is, I really didn’t get to hear my name called because I was on the phone with Coach Green. He said they were going to pick me,” noted McCoy, a fleet 6-1, 211-pound wide receiver. “I had a group of friends and my family there and right when my name came across the television screen everyone just went crazy. I couldn’t even hear what Coach Green was saying. I had to leave the room.” 

McCoy is the sixth IUP player to receive The Call from an NFL team. Yet, there was a time when he couldn’t have imagined ever joining that exclusive fraternity.

“LeRon’s a guy that right off the bat you knew with his size and speed that, hey, he realistically had a chance to play at the next level,” said IUP head coach Frank Cignetti. “But I don’t think he believed that some day this could happen. He would never take it seriously. He worked, but he didn’t work like he had a purpose, like he was on a mission that he wanted to play football on Sundays.”

McCoy spent the first half of his IUP career in the shadow of Carmelo Ocasio and J.R. Thomas, who embarked on arena football careers. But in his last two seasons, after redoubling his efforts, he became the go-to receiver and blossomed into one of the premier deep threats in Division II.  

“You go back through the years, we’ve had guys here who were pretty good big-play people,” Cignetti said. “I think LeRon by far is the most gifted. He has superior physical skills.”

McCoy can, in football parlance, separate from coverage and stretch a defense vertically. He bedeviled secondaries in the fall of 2004, hauling in thirty-six passes for 701 yards and ten touchdowns while earning Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West all-star honors for the third time. McCoy finished his IUP career ranked third all-time in touchdown receptions (25), fifth in receiving yards (2,096), and eighth in catches (110).

“The thing about playing wideout, it’s all about production,” said offensive coordinator-receivers coach Carmen Felus. “LeRon McCoy certainly produced for us when he was here. His senior year he had forty-three touches [receptions plus rushing attempts] and he scored eleven touchdowns. So one out of four times that LeRon touched the football he was going for six points. You love to have a guy like that on your team.”

Which is why NFL scouts came courting throughout his final season at IUP. McCoy then morphed from hot to sizzling commodity at February’s NFL combine, the annual pre-draft gathering of prospects in Indianapolis, when he ran a blistering 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, the fourth-fastest time among wide receivers. McCoy also recorded a vertical leap of thirty-seven and a half inches and snagged every pass thrown his way by the likes of 2003 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White (Oklahoma), Aaron Rodgers (California), Chris Rix (Florida State), and Kyle Orton (Purdue).

“I think the biggest thing was the 40, combined with catching footballs from some of the elite quarterbacks in college football,” McCoy said. “That helped to show that maybe I can compete on a higher level of football. I think those two things kind of opened up a lot of coaches’ eyes.”

Chart of IUP Draft Picks

A number of teams evinced keen interest in McCoy, especially the Miami Dolphins. New head coach Nick Saban, who served on Cignetti’s staff at West Virginia, took a liking to McCoy and hinted that he’d look dapper in the team’s aqua, coral, and white color scheme. But when the opportunity came to select him in the seventh and final round, Miami passed.

“So many teams call you and tell you so many different things,” McCoy said. “I definitely thought I was going to be a Dolphin by the end of the day, because of the number of times they came to watch me. During the seventh round they told me they were gonna draft me. They went as far as saying, ‘Congratulations, you’re a Dolphin.’ I got off the phone, and they picked a defensive tackle. It was an up-and-down day.”

McCoy’s mood brightened considerably a few minutes later when the Cardinals called. Friends and family whooped deliriously as he savored a moment few players—especially those from smaller schools—ever experience. In fact, only one Division II product was selected ahead of McCoy.

“I told myself all week that if I got drafted I wasn’t going to be emotional,” he said. “But when you see your name go across the screen on national television, it’s hard not to be. I was definitely emotional. It was such a thrill.”

As was donning his uniform for the first time at the Cardinals’ postdraft minicamp.

“I wanted to take pictures of my uniform and my helmet, but I didn’t want any of the other players to see me,” he said with a chuckle.

McCoy will return to Arizona July 31 for the start of training camp, brimming with confidence. He ran patterns against two of the finest cornerbacks in the land—Antrel Rolle of Miami, the Cardinals’ top pick, and Eric Green of Virginia Tech, their No. 3 selection—at minicamp and held his own.

“Any guy coming from a small school that’s trying to play in the NFL, I think the first thing they have to figure out is that they do belong,” Felus said. “Because you’re not coming from a big-time program, you’re not used to competing against guys that maybe are as athletic as you. I think as soon as LeRon realizes that he does deserve to be there, he can compete. Another thing, in order for him to stick, he’s got to be the hardest-working guy there. A guy coming from this level, he always has something to prove.”

Not only to others—to himself. McCoy never considered an NFL career a possibility until Cignetti and Felus began providing positive reinforcement. And, on occasion, a figurative kick in the butt.

“There were so many times when my career could have really gone the opposite way,” McCoy said. “They always pushed me, they always let me know that I had a future in football if I just worked hard at it. I have a tendency to be lazy at times, but they wouldn’t let me be lazy. They wouldn’t let me ever be satisfied or content.”

Cignetti and Felus kept telling a skeptical McCoy that he possessed the tools to one day play for pay. He finally believed. And so did the Arizona Cardinals.

LeRon McCoy beamed the day they called his name. Even if he never heard it.