Jan. 5, 2009

By Adam Caparell

Colt McCoy certainly remembers the game three years ago.

Much of it is kind of fuzzy, but how could McCoy forget his introduction to the nation? He was just a freshman back then, directing the Texas offense in only the second game of his career. And it just happened to come at home against the No. 1 team in the nation.

It was a memorable experience for McCoy, alright. And there was plenty of bad before he finally realized some good.

“I threw my first pick ever to Laurinaitis,” McCoy said. “I remember that for sure.”

Laurinaitis, of course, is James Laurinaitis, the standout Ohio State linebacker who helped the top-ranked Buckeyes knock off the Longhorns that September evening in 2006. Three years ago, the first regular season matchup between the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams in over a decade saw Ohio State take out the defending national champions in rather emphatic fashion. And it left a lasting impression on a young quarterback.

McCoy wasn’t able to muster a whole lot of good that night, but the lessons learned from the humbling defeat have stayed with him ever since.

“I've tried to think a lot about that game, about what I remember,” McCoy said. “I just remember that they were ranked No. 1 in the country. I think we were No. 2 or No. 3. We were at home and they came in there and beat us. You learn a lot from losing. We bounced back from that game. That was probably the biggest thing that I took out of that. We went on a long winning streak after that.”

If you want to be a successful quarterback at the highest level of college football, you better have a little resiliency in you, otherwise you’ll never last. And for all the accolades and praise McCoy has received over his career – especially after the season he just put together –resiliency may be his finest trait.

After all, it takes a strong kid to lead a team, as a freshman, to eight straight wins after a sobering home loss. And it takes an even stronger kid to put together the kind of historic season he just did – statistically the best ever by a Texas QB – after a sophomore slump.

But that’s McCoy for you. The guy who always looks undersized, but plays bigger than his frame, keeps overcoming the odds that say he’s not big enough or strong enough to be a big-time, winning quarterback. The thing is, he’s just too resilient to ever pack it in.

“Colt has developed into one of the best quarterbacks to ever play at Texas,” Longhorns WR Jordan Shipley said. “Just look at the name. It doesn't get any better than that for quarterbacks. He's definitely got his place in Texas football history and a lot of people look up to him. A lot of kids identify with him. I think what he has been able to do is pretty special.”

Special and McCoy are becoming pretty synonymous with each other these days, mostly because of the kind of resiliency he showed earlier this season in Lubbock. Leading what many figured to be a game-winning drive late against Texas Tech Nov. 1, McCoy appeared to have his Heisman moment. On the road, under the gun, he stood tall in front of a national audience.

Minutes later, his heart was ripped out when the Red Raiders scored with one second remaining to upset the Longhorns That Michael Crabtree touchdown from Graham Harrell handed Texas its first loss of the season and essentially its exit from national title contention.  Some expected the Longhorns to fold after the devastating loss.

It hurt bad – McCoy and his teammates will readily admit that – and it took some time to get over, but Texas got off the mat, thanks in large part to its quarterback. They took care of business the rest of the season, hoped against hope that something would break their way to get them back into the national title picture. But it never happened.

They watched helplessly as Oklahoma went to the Big 12 Championship game over them and subsequently the BCS Championship game, while Texas was relegated to the Fiesta Bowl as the No. 3 team in the final BCS standings.

Coming so close to the ultimate goal, only to watch your bitter rival wind up there was a tough pill to swallow for Texas. So naturally, the questions about the team’s mindset heading into Monday night’s meeting with Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz. have been swirling for weeks. Will the Longhorns really have any motivation for the Buckeyes? Do they really have anything to play for? Are the Longhorns actually going to try? How can they possibly get amped up for a game that doesn’t really matter?

Mr. Resiliency has an answer for you.

“It won’t be a challenge at all,” McCoy said. “This team is hungry, we want to win, we have an opportunity to win 12 games, we have an opportunity to win a split national championship. There’s all kinds of things we’re playing for. We’re really excited about being in a BCS game – we haven’t done that in a couple of years. There’s no let down. There’s no extra motivation that needs to be given out to anybody because this team wants to win.”

Believe it when McCoy says that Texas has a lot to prove. Besides that 12th win, they want to show everyone that they’re the team that should be playing for a national championship – not Oklahoma, who they beat in their regular season matchup – and there was even some small talk around the Longhorns locker room that maybe if they went out and put on a show in the Fiesta Bowl they could earn an AP national championship.

That may be nothing more than a pipe dream, and besides, all the public talk from the Longhorns has nothing to do with what if scenarios. It has everything to do with taking care of the latest business at hand.

“We talk about going out there and capping off this season the best way we can,” McCoy said. “Just do everything right and when we do that we feel we give ourselves a chance to win and we’ll see what happens after that.”

McCoy and the Longhorns didn’t give themselves the best chance to win three years ago against the Buckeyes. Throwing a freshman quarterback against a defense the caliber of Ohio State’s that day will do that to teams. But McCoy has come a long, long way since that game. He’s blossomed into one of the best in the nation, bulking up and refining his game.

It’s tough to teach resiliency, but somewhere along the line McCoy has picked it up. Criticism and poor performances just don’t stick to the guy. Resiliency means having a short memory most of the time, and a long one where it serves you well. McCoy seems to have perfected that.