Mike McCoy is still here.
The former Kansas State running back and current student coach sent out a reminder last week, just in case anyone forgot. That was him you saw piling up likes and retweets on social media when he pulled off a celebratory back flip after K-State’s recent victory against Kansas.
“I still want to be out there playing,” McCoy said. “I don’t think that feeling will ever leave. But it’s great to be on the sideline and cheer on this team and help get the best out of them. I love everything that is going on at this place right now. There’s never a dull moment. I’m always smiling.”
McCoy’s transformation from bruising running back to happy-go-lucky coach is going better than he could’ve imagined. Ten months after he medically retired from football because of lingering injury issues that stemmed from spinal stenosis, a condition he was born with that pinches the spinal cord and can cause pain and numbness across the body, McCoy still looks like he could lead the Wildcats in rushing yards.
But he’s now content to help K-State in other ways like breaking down film, tutoring young running backs, hosting recruits on official visits and hyping up the sideline.
Few saw that coming when McCoy decided to stop playing football. This game meant everything to him.
Even after an awkward hit caused his body to go completely numb for 45 seconds during a spring practice last year and he prayed to regain enough feeling in his legs to walk off the field, he pursued every possible avenue to stay in shoulder pads. Medical professionals urged him to retire, so he asked doctors for second opinions. Then he looked into stem cells. He sat out the 2018 season hoping to find a solution and return this year under new coach Chris Klieman, no matter the cost.
“I wanted to be a running back that could have his name put on this stadium,” McCoy said. “I played football to be the best. I just wanted to do as many great things as I could. Honestly, part of me still thinks I can. I feel so good right now that I sometimes wonder if I am completely healed. I just now started being able to flip with no hands. I’m still getting stronger in my legs.”
So what convinced him to retire?
Mainly, he hung up his cleats because he wants to have a long and successful life after football. Sure, McCoy flashed eye-popping potential during his brief action in a K-State football uniform, totaling 55 yards on 10 carries. Who can forget the time he bulldozed a perfectly positioned defender on his way to a 15-yard touchdown as a redshirt freshman? But even the best running backs can’t play forever. McCoy valued a healthy existence without football more than risking serious injury while continuing to play the sport he loves.
Klieman also made the choice easier for him by putting McCoy on the fast track for a graduate-assistant spot on his coaching staff and letting him stay on scholarship in his new role. If McCoy can’t play, his second choice is to coach.
“Losing football was like losing a family member to me, but you have got to move on to something else,” McCoy said. “It sucks that I can’t help on the field, but Coach Klieman really is one of the greatest. He is going to be successful here for a long time. I’m glad to be a part of what he’s building. It’s so much fun that I sometimes forget I am in slacks and coach gear. I still have the mentality that we need to go out there and kill these dudes on Saturdays.”
As a student coach, McCoy wears a number of different hats as an extra assistant. He likes helping recruiting coordinator Taylor Braet connect with high school players the most.
McCoy, a 21-year old Topeka product, can relate to every recruit that visits campus. He shows them and their families around town. He also makes sure to tell them how Klieman stood by him and honored his scholarship after he medically retired from the sport.
“He has helped us a lot in recruiting,” K-State quarterbacks coach Collin Klein said. “He is able to share his story and show off his great personality. He is a terrific young man.”
His energy has also made a positive impact behind the scenes.
“I’m happy that he’s a part of this,” Klieman said. “He has a lot of great friends that are on the football team. It was unfortunate that his career was cut short due to injury, and that’s never easy, but he has a role with our team.”
McCoy is eager to see where it takes him, one flip at a time.