Last year, it seemed as if everything was finally falling into place for Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. The 2010 third-overall draft pick finally finished a full season, injury free, and made the Pro Bowl for the first time.
But soon-to-be-inducted Hall of Famer Warren Sapp issued a challenge to his young protégé, who had been charged the tall task of manning Sapp’s three-technique spot, a position he revolutionized as a member of the old Tampa 2 defense.
“He said to me last year when I made it, ‘Now that you got in once, what are you going to do with it? It’s not about what you just did. It’s about what you do now. Now you have an opportunity to be perennial, which means, you put a streak together of them, what you do year-in and year-out,” McCoy recalled.
And by all accounts, it appears he took that motivation to heart. Friday night, he was named to his second Pro Bowl, becoming the first Buccaneer to earn consecutive Pro Bowl honors since Ronde Barber (2004-2006) and Derrick Brooks (1997-2006).
He also became just the fourth Bucs defensive lineman to earn multiple Pro Bowl berths, joining Warren Sapp (seven), defensive end Lee Roy Selmon (six) and defensive end Simeon Rice (two).
“He was just telling me, ‘Getting one is good, getting two-in-a-row is great, but when you put a streak together, that’s elite.’ And that’s what he’s tried to motivate me to be.”
Despite the team’s dismal 4-11 record heading into Sunday’s season finale, McCoy bolstered his five sacks from last season to a career-high nine this year, tying him for third among defensive tackles in the league and fifth among defensive tackles in team history. His mark of 15 tackles for a loss is also a career-best and tops at his position.
“I’ve been blessed enough to do it back-to-back years, [so] now it’s like, ‘Can I keep this going?’ Or is it, ‘He had a good time in his career but then he fell off?’ I don’t want to be that guy.”
But it wasn’t enough to merely put up numbers. McCoy, a captain on defense, needed to make an impact to change the course of games. It started by going to the coaching staff and asking for more straight-on rushes, believing it helped him get to the quarterback quicker.
He posted three sacks in a 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons and recorded at least one in the last three consecutive games, something he wasn’t sure was possible after a cruel twist of fate landed him on I.R. for a torn right bicep. The previous year, he had torn the left.
Back then, all he could do was look on helplessly, his arm heavily bandaged, as the team lost its final five games in 2011 without him. Some had already started labeling him a “bust.” Boos began to trickle from the stands.
“Yeah, there were times [when I had doubts],” McCoy said on coming back. “I mean, I’m human. Just because I believe in God’s promise for my life doesn’t mean I’m not human.”
“You have to be mentally tough to be able to bounce back…To be able to mentally push myself and make myself get up at 6 or 7 or 8 (a.m.) and stay for eight, nine hours, and go back to rehab, and work out twice, three times, and do that extra rep, do that extra set, mentally it’s very draining and it’s not easy to do.”
And neither is earning recognition a second time around.
“To bounce back and be able to do this, I think it’s been seven to eight years since this has happened [a Buccaneer having consecutive Pro Bowl seasons], so it’s definitely an honor. I’m just happy that the fans and the coaches and the players think this highly of me.”