Jordan McPherson/SEC Country
Florida center T.J. McCoy warms up during Florida's second practice of fall camp Friday.

Gators center T.J. McCoy studied everything from OL to DBs to prepare for 2017

Ryan Young

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — While looking to build off his breakout 2016 season and prepare for his first full year as Florida’s starting center, T.J. McCoy naturally spent a lot of time in new offensive line coach Brad Davis’ office this offseason.

They went over film, discussed how McCoy could make better calls at the line of scrimmage and, in general, just got to know each other.

But McCoy didn’t stop there, seeking input and insight from a variety of sources.

“(I) also went into our new DB coach’s office and said, ‘Look, I don’t know nothing about coverages.’ I know that’s what a lot of NFL centers know. I said, ‘Just teach me some coverages,'” he said of meeting with new Gators’ assistant coach Corey Bell. “He taught me coverages. In about 15 minutes, he taught me two-high, one-high, zero. Those really helped me … to know when they’re going to bring a blitz.”

RELATED: How the Gators’ OL bonded over fishing, hibachi while aiming for breakout 2017

But the most valuable time he spent, perhaps, was working with his original teacher.

His father Tony McCoy, the former Gators’ and NFL defensive lineman.

There was added significance in working out with his dad, who started receiving treatments for leukemia in 2012 and is now in remission.

“He’s feeling way better. He’s starting to work out again, getting back in the gym. That’s something I did this offseason was just working out with my dad, having him teach me some stuff,” McCoy said.

“I feel like it’s a weight off my shoulders. I feel like it’s really good because I feel like it gave me just a sense of like, man, I know my father’s doing good, that way I can kind of just really focus on what I have to do as a football player. That’s something that was really tough for me when I first got here because he’d been in and out of the hospital a lot. But you know, last year he was starting to get better and this year is way better. I’d say that is something that’s really affected me personally, my play and my focus factor.”

Tony McCoy, who has always encouraged his son to play offensive line with a defensive lineman’s mentality, emphasized to him to keep moving his feet in pass protection and offered his perspective on the best ways to shield a pass rusher.

McCoy was an unlikely breakout performer last fall in that he spent most of the season as the Gators’ third-string center. But starter Cam Dillard went down with a season-ending injury Nov. 5 against Arkansas (and would later transfer to North Carolina this offseason) and backup center Tyler Jordan, sliding over from guard, was injured on his first snap in the next game against South Carolina.

In came McCoy, and he’s been a mainstay in the middle of the line ever since.

Now a redshirt sophomore, he’s the smallest of the Gators’ offensive linemen, officially listed at 6-foot-1, 308 pounds, and towering teammates Jawaan Taylor (6-5, 340) and Fred Johnson (6-6, 311) playfully tease him about that. But McCoy made his mark nonetheless.

“They don’t measure your height on the field; they measure how hard you can play,” McCoy said. “My thing is I’m going to play hard to the fourth quarter.”

That quickly become apparent to both the coaches and his teammates.

“T.J. McCoy was actually kind of a lightning rod a little bit for us from a transformation piece,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “The energy, the care, the want, obviously being a legacy and playing in The Swamp, for him, that’s real. You hear me talk a little bit about how to affect the people around you in a positive way. He’s definitely one of those guys.”

A reporter relayed the “lightning rod” comment to McCoy, who seemed humbled by the praise of his head coach but uninterested in any such credit.

There is a lot of talk emanating from McElwain and the players that the offensive line might finally be ready for a breakthrough in 2017.

After morphing from unlikely starter to key cog last fall, McCoy just wants to be a part of that collective success and contribute his share to realizing Florida’s offensive goals this fall.

“It’s all about the team for me. It’s all about Jordan Scarlett, it’s all about the quarterback, the wide receivers,” McCoy said. “I’m just here to help protect those guys and help them get yards and make ways for them to make touchdowns.”