When Gerald McCoy was young - and one can bet a very exuberant youth - his parents Gerald and Patricia told him this: "Whatever you think you're good at, whatever you want to do, pursue it to the best of your abilities and try to be great at it."
Now, it wasn't too long before McCoy decided this advice applied, above all, to the game of football. It was a reasonable assumption, as he was soon an all-everything prep star, a top college recruit and eventually the linchpin of the hometown Oklahoma Sooners' defense.
One wonders, though...did McCoy miss his true calling? Because what this 22-year-old NFL star-in-the-making is definitely good at, and perhaps great, is spreading smiles.
We don't mean in the community relations, visit-local-schools sense, though McCoy does admit to a passion for giving back to kids. And we don't mean McCoy's own million-watt smile, which comes out frequently.
We're talking the kind of smiles that come from a well-told story, with sharp little truths rolled up in a big sense of humor. On Friday, McCoy's first day in Tampa since the NFL draft moment that changed his life, this entertainer was telling stories.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ushered McCoy into his NFL career on Thursday by selecting him with the third overall pick of the 2010 draft. To be honest, there were more tears than smiles at that moment, though they were clearly tears of joy mixed with a little sadness for Patricia, who passed away two-and-a-half years ago. The next 19 hours were an absolute whirlwind for the newest Buc, from post-draft celebrations to airport-floor naps to sun-up plane flights to a tour of One Buc Place. It was a tiring run, but when McCoy took the stage in the team's media studio at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, the smile was back and so were the tales.
Soon, the whole room was grinning.
Of course, the introduction of McCoy was enough by itself to inspire smiles. Team management and Buccaneer fans seem to share the belief that the former Sooner star will help Tampa Bay's defense recapture its briefly-lost glory, and McCoy eagerly embraces that promise.
"I hope you guys are having a good day because mine is magnificent," he said. "I am now a Buccaneer and I am elated to be here. It's been a crazy process. [I] didn't know what was going to happen last night, but once I finally got that call I was overwhelmed with emotion and ready to get it going. I'm going to be exactly what you guys drafted me for. Everything you guys expect and have seen on film, on the field, off the field, and what you guys think Gerald McCoy is is what I'm going to bring to Tampa. I don't plan to disappoint."
Then came the stories. For instance, have you heard the one about how the latest draftee just happens to be a huge fan of his new team, despite living halfway across the country. It's a comfortable PR trope, but in McCoy's case it happens to be completely true, and any doubt of that is erased when he starts breaking down the moves that got the Bucs to Super Bowl glory in 2002 and the lengths he went to to follow that big game while in church.
"Me and my pastor's son, we were at night service," he recalled. "Who has night service on Super Bowl Sunday? I don't know. But we were trying to sneak out. My pastor's son is a little guy, so he was running real fast. He'd run in and [say], 'They got another interception!' I was like, 'Good, good.' So we were in the back of the church [dancing] and the pastor was up there preaching. I grew up a huge Bucs fan and it's an honor to be here."
There was the one about trashcan paper toss bringing out his competitiveness. There was another one about his meeting in the office of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell with a group of fellow draft prospects, which had him working the room to try to liven up the discussion. There was the one where he sacked new teammate Josh Freeman in Big 12 play and then was shocked by the size of his latest victim.
Maybe McCoy was a bit punch-drunk from his almost complete lack of sleep, but it was fun, and he wasn't the only one smiling. Huge grins could be seen on the likes of Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris and General Manager Mark Dominik on the side of the room (of course, they might also be happy about their first-round windfall), and the media crowd laughed frequently.
But there's a business side to McCoy, too, and it comes out when he steps on the football field. Maybe we're making too much out of his entertainment skills based on one short press conference, but there's mountains of evidence that he is a sublime football player. McCoy's parents gave him good advice when he was young and, all things being equal, he seems to have applied it to the perfect career.
Now, he's hoping to use his talents to help the Buccaneers return to the glory he remembers from his childhood. The one time McCoy didn't really crack a smile during his press conference, when he sounded most definitely serious? When he was asked what he knew about the current version of the Buccaneers.
"That they're going to be a great team next year," he said with conviction. "I know that. Last year - it is what it is, what happened last year, but it's in the past. We're looking towards the future and what we're going to do this year."