Each time I think of Bru McCoy, I again marvel at how high he jumped to make that catch at the Alabama 23 with two seconds left in the most dramatic game of 2022.
The Tide’s Jordan Battle crashed into him. Of course Bru held onto the ball.
Josh Heupel called timeout. Chase McGrath coaxed his kick over the crossbar. Tennessee won. Pure joy prevailed. Thousands rushed onto Shields-Watkins Field. The celebration ran deep into the night.
That was then. Bru is undoubtedly finished with football for this season. He is a few days into recovery from a fractured and dislocated ankle. The loss is enormous for Tennessee. “Next man up” can’t begin to replace him.
If McCoy wasn’t so tough, the injury would be heartbreaking. He retains faith of full recovery and an NFL career. He may become a pro star.
You need to know at least a little bit of what I know. Bru has been in the sports spotlight since he was a child. There were no days off from the pressure of being the best player on his team.
Instead of attending the convenient high school in his hometown of Rancho Palos Verdes, California, he chose football power Mater Dei High in Santa Ana because he thought it would improve his chances for championships and a college scholarship.
He became a top 10 recruit in the country. Of course he signed with Southern Cal. He had a Trojan football in his crib. Incidentally, he was tough even then. His family called him “Bruiser.”
He was a bouncing baby boy. He learned at eight months to flip out of that crib. He didn’t cry when he hit the floor. He didn’t bother with crawling. He walked at nine months. At three years old, he jumped up on stage at a local Hard Rock Cafe and started dancing. That’s about when Bruiser was shortened to Bru.
McCoy encountered serious setbacks at Southern Cal. The coach who recruited him, Kliff Kingsbury, moved to the NFL a week after McCoy enrolled. Texas recruiters had warned him that would happen. He didn’t believe them then but really believed them after the fact.
“I felt betrayed,” Bru says. “Arrogant 18-year-old me thought, ‘I’ll just go to Texas. SC didn’t do me right.’
“I made a rash mistake.”
Indeed, McCoy transferred to Texas. He went through spring practice with the Longhorns but his heart wasn’t in it. He transferred back to Southern Cal. He endured a mysterious illness that was never identified. He missed all of the 2019 season. He played some in pandemic-shortened 2020. He missed all of 2021 after being arrested on charges of domestic violence.
After months of he-said and she-said controversy and legal wrangling, his former girlfriend declined to prosecute. He wasn’t convicted of anything. The Los Angeles County district attorney said there was insufficient evidence.
McCoy’s lawyers argued at great length for football reinstatement but university processes blocked the route. When investigations were finally finished or dropped, by the time all committees had stopped meeting, Bru had entered the transfer portal and was on his way to the Volunteers.
Be sure the University of Tennessee checked him out. It found far more good than bad.
McCoy needed an NCAA waiver. The great governing body considered Bru a football butterfly. How do you explain flitting from Southern Cal to Texas to Southern Cal to Tennessee? The NCAA finally relented.
McCoy caught 52 passes for 667 yards and four touchdowns last season. He was second to Jalin Hyatt.
This July, Joe Milton III was asked what more fans could expect from Horace Lee McCoy III.
“There are a lot of things they haven’t seen,” Milton said. “Bru is a different person than he was last year.”
This season he was again the toughest receiver on the team, the Vol most likely to catch contested passes and knock obstacles out of the way for bonus yardage or so others could run.
Milton, other teammates and Heupel praised how hard he had worked to be what he was. His leadership was highly valued. He was a captain for the South Carolina game. His parents were here. They were very proud.
Not much has been said about Bru McCoy beyond football. He created an NIL campaign called “Touchdowns for AEDs” with an automated external defibrillator to be donated to a Knoxville area youth sports organization every time he scored a touchdown.
McCoy and other athletes promoted “Huddle for Hearts” in conjunction with the Peyton Walker Foundation.
Since there won’t be any Bru touchdowns any time soon, the umbrella organization is looking for ways to keep his game going. His parents are helping. Fans are asking how they can help.
At 19, Peyton Walker, a sophomore at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and died. That was in 2013. Her family adopted the mission of fighting back against undiagnosed heart issues.
It has found ways to educate adults, screen thousands of students and donate more than 500 defibrillators. The mission is saving lives. Bru signed up to help. You might qualify as a Bru substitute. Check out www.PeytonWalker.org.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is email@example.com.