Bru McCoy’s Road to Recovery

Mysterious illness made USC’s Bru McCoy think he’d die. Coach Helton helped him heal

A mysterious illness left USC receiver Bru McCoy is a bad frame of mind. It took a one-on-one meeting with coach Clay Helton to help McCoy turn a corner. (John McGillen / USC Athletics)

Ryan Kartje (LA Times)  —  Drenched in sweat, short of breath, Bru McCoy sank into the leather of his dormitory room couch late last summer, wondering if his misery would ever end.

The last year had been the most difficult of his life. The very public transfer saga from USC to Texas and back to USC. The hailstorm of online hate in its wake. Feelings of betrayal, self-doubt, uncertainty, regret. McCoy weathered it all, hellbent on proving wrong every online stranger who’d questioned his heart or condemned his character.

He left Austin in May 2019 and returned to L.A. determined to turn the tables. Then, his body turned on him.

The exhaustion set in just days after he arrived at USC. His temperature spiked to more than 100 degrees. He began sweating nonstop, his body losing so much water that his muscles cramped constantly. Some days, he dropped as much as five pounds and required an IV. Most nights, he was forced to flip his moist mattress just to get to sleep.

A doctor diagnosed McCoy with strep throat, but the mysterious symptoms refused to abate. McCoy and his family feared the worst. Could it be cancer? An autoimmune disorder? Something else? He was poked, prodded and scanned by a parade of specialists, all of them unable to explain why his body was rebelling against itself.

“They reached a point where they were second-guessing if I was even sick,” McCoy said.

Even McCoy wondered if, on some existential level, he was being punished for his winding path back to USC. As if the football gods were making him pay. For months, he lay on that dorm couch wondering, replaying the decisions he made.

“He really at one point thought he was going to die,” his father, Horace, said. “He was scared.”

Still, the doubts and criticism persisted. McCoy understood why. But he didn’t want to explain his situation. Not to strangers, not to teammates, not even to family. He felt embarrassed, ashamed. So he retreated inward, playing hours of video games, papering over his worst fears, closing himself off to friends and family, coaches and teammates.

“I was in a really bad place,” McCoy said. “It felt like nothing was clicking.”

Trojans coach Clay Helton tried as often as he could to check on McCoy. He knew the previous six months had been an emotional minefield. But now, he sensed something was weighing heavily on the former five-star recruit from Santa Ana Mater Dei High. He called him in for a one-on-one meeting.

Months after his mysterious symptoms finally relented, McCoy still has no clue what made him sick. He’s not sure he’ll ever know. Even a stint in the hospital, under three days of observation, offered little in the way of answers.

But ask him when everything began to turn around, and McCoy points to that meeting with Helton as the moment he finally saw “the light at the end of the tunnel.”

For so long, everything seemed to come easily. That was the perception from the outside, at least. When people watched McCoy, they saw the chiseled frame, the extraordinary athleticism, the prolific, technical precision. They saw one of the most celebrated young athletes in California — a wideout capable of weaving through double teams, plowing through tacklers, and making smaller defenders look silly. They saw a sure thing.

“He was one of those guys that could honestly play anything he wanted,” Helton said.

What most couldn’t see was the pressure building below the surface. Over the years, Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson had noticed a tell. On the rare occasion McCoy made a mistake, he’d lock his arms and clench his fists, as if frustration were coursing through his veins.

“I found myself always telling him, ‘We’re not all perfect,’” Rollinson said.


Santa Ana Mater Dei WR Bru McCoy leads his teammates onto the field before a game against rival St. John Bosco at Cerritos College in November 2018. (Luis Sinco / LA Times)

But McCoy always pushed toward perfection, anyway, piling on so much work between school and football that every night he returned home exhausted. Before leaving for USC in December 2018, his parents told him to take the spring off — to relax, to be a kid — but McCoy didn’t want to waste time. He went straight from the CIF state championship to the All-American Bowl to campus, without so much as a moment to breathe.

“Hindsight is always 20/20,” he said.

It’s an expression McCoy uses often in recalling the miserable months that followed — the sudden exit of Trojans offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury in January 2019, the hasty decision soon after to leave his dream school, the second-guessing at Texas, the choice to reverse course and return to USC — because it’s the only way he knows how to move forward. If he could do it all again, of course, he never would’ve left USC.

“I learned a lot,” McCoy said. “Now looking back, it’s like, you should’ve just put your head down and kept being the person you were through all of high school, and it would’ve worked out.”

But that realization took time. For months, McCoy dwelled on those regrets, letting them slosh around his mind over long days spent sick in his room. He was hurt and angry. He blamed himself for taking things too personally, for internalizing the scrutiny of strangers, for letting his failures play out so publicly.

The weight of it all felt suffocating. He’d never been forced to confront fallout of his own making — let alone, in front of thousands of critics online — and returning to USC meant steering straight into the skid. But he knew it was the only way to right his initial wrong.

The online scolding was swift and ruthless, nonetheless.

“The things he told me he was going through, getting death threats and everything … as an 18-, 19-year-old kid, that’s a lot to be put on your shoulders, you know?” said Chris Steele, a Trojans cornerback and close friend who transferred to USC around the same time as McCoy. “You’ve got grown men with children of their own [messaging] you about a decision that you’ve made. You’re 18, 19 years old. You don’t necessarily know how to deal with things like that.”

Horace McCoy tried to be a realist. He laid out the hurdles he knew Bru would face. Just keep your head down, he told him.

“One day all of this will make sense,” Horace said. “You’ll be able to look over your shoulder in a few years from now, and know this made you a better person today.”

When Helton asked to meet, McCoy still was struggling to see that bigger picture.

The coach had tried to ease the anxiety of McCoy’s return as best he could. He called a team meeting to openly broach the subject. He offered resounding support of McCoy’s decision.

But now, Helton was worried about him. He knew McCoy better than most incoming freshmen. Their families lived less than two miles apart in Rancho Palos Verdes, and they’d grown close over the years.

As they sat down, one on one, Helton was direct. “What’s going on?” he asked McCoy, who was drenched in sweat. “Are you doing OK?”

Helton suggested that McCoy take a step back from football. For his entire life, football had defined him. Now was the time to sort out his life without it.

Coach and player talked for more than an hour. McCoy opened up. Football was only a footnote.

“More than anything, he just told me, life is going to go on,” McCoy said. “I was still going to get to live out the dream I wanted to live out. Everything I look back on now, I think he was so right. That conversation really changed things for me.

“I was really shut off from everybody, and he said everything that was floating in the room but no one wanted to say. He kind of broke that barrier down.”

There still were plenty of obstacles to overcome. But now, McCoy was determined to face them. He set goals — modest ones at first. Go to all of his classes. Drink as much water as he could. Some days, he’d try to run on the treadmill. Others, he swam in the pool. Good days started stacking onto good days.

Bit by bit, McCoy finally began to feel better.::


McCoy says battling through illness brought a valuable perspective to his life. (John McGillen / USC Athletics)

The cruel irony of his current situation, on the eve of a scheduled start of an uncertain college football season, isn’t lost on McCoy.

“I get healthy, and now the world gets sick with a respiratory illness?” he said. “That chain of events, it doesn’t even sound real.”

McCoy didn’t mind months of quarantine. He describes himself as “a homebody,” happy to spend his days training and playing video games. Most days during the lockdown, he rode his bike through the hills of Palos Verdes, just happy to have his health back.

“It all came into perspective for me while I was sick,” McCoy said. “I had a lot of free time to look back on everything, to put all this other stuff to the side for a second. I’m still a person.”

He has a much better grasp on that now. He’s not so hard on himself anymore. Eighteen months after he first entered the NCAA transfer portal, McCoy, who will be a redshirt freshman, is at peace with the path that brought him here.

The path that lies ahead still is uncertain. With COVID-19 threatening college football, there’s no guarantee that McCoy will get to play this year either.

“No one has those answers,” he said. But the weight of that uncertainty no longer feels so heavy.

“Everything,” McCoy said, “will eventually find its way.”

yahoo.com

__________

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gametv
Noble Member
gametv (@gametv)
August 10, 2020 4:48 pm

Dont see any comments on Bru – I’m really looking forward to seeing him compete, he is going to be a special player for SC. Let’s play ball!

The university presidents need to stop being the wimps we know they are. Man (or woman) up! Life is full of risk, as long as they are smart risks, it’s all good.

John Weld
Admin
Diamond Member
John Weld (@johnnynumbers)
August 10, 2020 3:21 pm

Yahoo Sports is reporting that the Mountain West Conference has cancelled the 2020 Fall football season and that they would consider a spring football option at a later date.

HOF19
Noble Member
HOF19 (@hof19)
August 10, 2020 2:50 pm

Been checking Lawyers websites on this issue and it seems that the opinion is that if a Law Firm had a football conference as a client they would advise cancelling.

Rock2112
Diamond Member
Rock2112 (@rock2112)
August 10, 2020 11:53 am

And we get another year with the bad taste of Clay Helton in our mouths. I sure as hell hope this coming year counts on Clay’s contract and he doesn’t get an automatic extension to 2025. At least we’re not paying Urban dollars during this time — sometimes even the greatly incompetent get lucky, and USC’s administration did here. But this is truly historic and sad. So how do you just pause the world? Are we just learning that we saw the last of the incoming seniors when they walked off the field as juniors last year? And kids can… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
Diamond Member
TrojanRJJ (@trojanrjj)
August 10, 2020 1:11 pm
Reply to  Rock2112

Rock, Nice to hear from you. Is your kid still going to Indiana? And, is Indiana going to have classes in the fall?

Rock2112
Diamond Member
Rock2112 (@rock2112)
August 10, 2020 10:38 pm
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

Thanks for asking RJJ and for such a great memory! Yes, my son is due to arrive on Aug. 29. Fingers are crossed, but his school has its pedal to the medal on moving forward. Everything is touch and go, but we are hopeful he can get a good start to college — in person. Lots of safety protocols are in place, Rose-Hulman has been very diligent.

TrojanRJJ
Diamond Member
TrojanRJJ (@trojanrjj)
August 10, 2020 1:10 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Allen, It ain’t over yet. Just read, the players are now forming a new union to fight this decision. They say they want to play and what they need are legitimate guidelines. Kedon is the first USC player to join. It appears that the kids got that organizing and protesting works. My guess is 90% of the players will back this The NCAA now has a mess on its hands. The players know the cancellation is political BS and are fighting back. They will organize around this cause and if the NCAA is not careful (and it is lead by… Read more »

LawyerJohn
Knighted Member
LawyerJohn (@lawyerjohn)
August 10, 2020 11:11 am

I tried watching pro baseball and NBA ‘finals’ play, and without a roaring crowd to build the excitement and drama, I felt as if I were watching a scrimmage. Without a manic Ohio St-Michigan type crowd, college football was not going to be the same this year anyway…..

My worry– that 2021 and beyond may be cancelled. COVID will still be here in 2025! And a vaccine?– many will refuse to use it even if it were to be invented.

gametv
Noble Member
gametv (@gametv)
August 11, 2020 8:31 am
Reply to  LawyerJohn

Lawyerjohn – COVID is going to be around in some form for years, but it will be like some very rare disease. All you need is a certain percentage of the population to get vaccinated and the disease will lose its power to multiply.

And for the people who refuse to get vaccinated… maybe it is culling the stupid from the herd!

There are probably 5 different vaccines that could be ready by early 2021. There is at least one vaccine that can be manufactured very rapidly.

Terrific Tommy
Diamond Member
Terrific Tommy (@terrific-tommy)
August 10, 2020 10:52 am

I think that’s great — but please Trojan Gods in the sky, don’t use this scenario as a rationale for giving Clay Helton a 3-year extension.

He deserves credit for certain — but wouldn’t just buying him an ice cream at 31 Flavors serve the purpose? 😁

John Weld
Admin
Diamond Member
John Weld (@johnnynumbers)
August 10, 2020 10:16 am

TMZ is reporting that the PAC 12 has voted to suspend football until Spring 2021 and that the coaches have been informed of the decision.

Golden Trojan
Diamond Member
Golden Trojan (@golden-trojan)
August 10, 2020 11:53 am
Reply to  John Weld

I wouldn’t count on spring football (real games), then how do you have a fall schedule? Just best to cancel and restart next fall. It sucks but we will have to Fight On.

TrojanRJJ
Diamond Member
TrojanRJJ (@trojanrjj)
August 10, 2020 9:36 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

The Pac vote on Tuesday is now a guarantee. It is odd, don’t you think. that keeping Helton in place was, as it turned out, the correct decision. It will be interesting to see what the NFL now does. I now wonder about the economic fall out from this. If it is too dangerous to play sports, how can you hold class? I would think that kids would simply take a year off school. I know if I were a parent, I would not pay SC tuition for online classes.

Trojan5
Knighted Member
Trojan5 (@trojan5)
August 10, 2020 10:35 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I am going to be incredibly bummed when the season is cancelled. I read one analysis & say Yes the season should be cancelled. I read another analysis & say No the season should not be cancelled. People way more informed then me ( or is it I) are going to make decisions guaranteed to anger many. I’m reminded of a colleague who was promoted to a series of higher level positions. Culminating in an executive leadership job. Shortly after a unpopular decision was made and the equally unpopular policy change was rolled out he shared this little nugget. “If… Read more »

ATL D.D.S.
Diamond Member
ATL D.D.S. (@atl-d-d-s)
August 11, 2020 7:08 am
Reply to  Trojan5

Too many decisions, T5, are made in today’s climate in a CYA, kick it down the road attitude–to the greater population’s detriment.

We need more decisions made in a reasoned, common-sense approach environment.

Of the former or the latter; what camp do you put the PAC-12 decision-makers/college presidents? Yeah, me too. That’s why we won’t have football in 2020.

Trojan5
Knighted Member
Trojan5 (@trojan5)
August 12, 2020 9:50 am
Reply to  ATL D.D.S.

Howdy ATL. There are a variety of opinions expressed on TDB. Ranging from very conservative to very liberal. Yet, even with this variety of thought there is one thing that 100% of us agree. Larry Scott is a horrible commissioner and does not make the Pac-12 better.And he should be replaced.

gametv
Noble Member
gametv (@gametv)
August 10, 2020 10:58 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

This is crazy. What COVID should prove to every American is how inept our whole government bureaucracy has become. We literally have the WORST and most inefficient government of any first-world country. Our companies are the envy of every other nation, but our government is a JOKE. The path to moving forward is having public policy communicated intelligently and efficient testing processes along with contact tracing. South Korea is a great model. But instead we have the R and D trying to use COVID as a political tool to gain more power. So sick of our two party system that… Read more »

Rock2112
Diamond Member
Rock2112 (@rock2112)
August 10, 2020 12:38 pm
Reply to  gametv

Game, if you’re tired of our two-party system, just wait until you get a giant dose of the one-party system coming in that has been accelerated by this pandemic. It’s done wonders in LA, New York, Seattle, Portland and Chicago, and is coming soon to other cities around the country.

Trojan96
Knighted Member
Trojan96 (@trojan96)
August 11, 2020 12:53 am
Reply to  Rock2112

Rock is right. The Commies are taking over. Washington, Minnesota, Oregon and California are almost there. There is only one party that pushing the socialist agenda and Sacramento is littered with them.

ATL D.D.S.
Diamond Member
ATL D.D.S. (@atl-d-d-s)
August 11, 2020 5:07 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I was trying to think of the Governors of the states involved in the BIG TEN. More than half of the states in the Conference are run by flaming left wing Dems (or RINO’s who might as well be Dems–I’m looking at you DeWine) with all of their crazy political Covid rules. I don’t think football had a chance in the conference for political reasons alone. Because sports are definitely political now….

Rock2112
Diamond Member
Rock2112 (@rock2112)
August 11, 2020 9:37 am
Reply to  ATL D.D.S.

Right! And the Pac12 might be even worse, with a footprint mostly on the Left Coast and the Pacific Northwest. Frankly, I am surprised the Pac12 isn’t leading the no-play charge. I think that is why the Big10 is pumping the brakes now. They want to step back in line and let another league (other than the Ivy League) take the heat for spoiling the sport. There’s no way on God’s planet the Pac12 is playing unless and until we have a Biden presidency under way, and perhaps until there is blanket liability protection for any potential player infections. Sorry… Read more »

John Weld
Admin
Diamond Member
John Weld (@johnnynumbers)
August 10, 2020 9:13 am

Dan Patrick is reporting that the Big 10 voted 12-2 to cancel the football season, only Iowa and Nebraska voted to go forward. A formal announcement is expected tomorrow.