Article By: Kels Dayton
I have the greatest luck in the world.
Last Wednesday, I pulled over to the side of a road in Branford, fresh off of looking at this sweet apartment that I’m never going to live in, and made a call to Octavias McKoy, the Western Connecticut State running back who had been killing it all season but not getting much pub.
McKoy had spent the previous Saturday piling up a ridiculous 327 yards against Fitchburg State, and he was due for his moment in the sun. I was pumped to call him, because my story was going to let the rest of Connecticut know that he was for real.
I pulled into the parking lot at Lenny’s, took out my smartphone and made the call. I spoke with Octavias for about 20 minutes, asking him about the D-1 offers he got out of high school, the long road he had taken to get to Western, and his future in football. He was the most humble, appreciative kid you’d ever meet, and I hung up thinking that his story was going to be great.
I’ll save this for next week, I thought. I want to actually see him play first, so I can speak from experience.
The only problem was that Western’s next game was on the road in Worcester, Mass., and I had to work that Saturday. So I figured I’d wait for a practice, or until the Colonials returned home on Nov. 16.
I can’t wait to give this kid some exposure, I thought.
Not three days later did McKoy go all Hatfield on the NCAA record books, obliterating them with an all-time best 455 yards in a 55-35 win over Worcester State. In other words, he rushed for more yards than anyone in the history of the sport.
“They’ve been playing college football since 1869,” Western coach Joe Loth said. “Nobody in the history of college football has ever had a game like Octavias had.”
Here’s where you could go all LeBron on everybody. Not Jim Brown, not Eric Dickerson, not Barry Sanders, not Emmitt Smith, not LaDainian Tomlinson, not Adrian Peterson, not some future pro on the No. 1 squad in the country taking on a doormat.
No one in the history of the game.
“It’s starting to sink in, to be mentioned with those greats, it’s truly an honor,” McKoy said.
Needless to say, my story, like the record book, was also obliterated.
Not that I’m bitter or anything.
I just learned, like most defenses this year, that you’ve got to be pretty quick to catch Octavias.
“Hopefully, you’re at your best, because I’m always at mine,” McKoy said, when asked how defenders can stop him.
Coach Loth said that he knew McKoy had a ton of yards on Saturday, but didn’t know he was approaching the record when he took him out of the game late in the second half. “Just by coincidence, he had broken the record a few plays earlier,” Loth said. “We found out on the bus.”
“It’s crazy because even at the time, you start thinking, wow, he just had the best game ever,” he said.
Since Saturday, McKoy has been interviewed by everyone outside of Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric. He’s been live on SportsCenter, in the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Hartford Courant, featured on Yahoo!’s sports page, and given a helmet sticker on College Game Day.
“It’s been like an out-of-body [experience},” he said. “When I was on SportsCenter, I was standing in the back with my coach and I heard the ‘Da na na, da na na.’ I was like, oh man, this is big time.”
He’s quick to give his offensive line and his coaches all the credit. Not to mention the wide receivers who block for him downfield. “Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am,” he said.
In fact, whenever you ask McKoy about his own success, he mentions his teammates and coaching staff. He also credits the scheme Western runs for allowing him to be versatile as a runner.
“On any given play, I have three different options,” McKoy said. “I can hit the A-gap, the B-gap, the C-gap, whichever hole opens up. The defense can’t just say, ‘we’re going to cover the A-gap,’ because there are so many different options for me on each play.”
If that sounded like coachspeak, it’s because it was. When Octavias is done breaking records on the football field, he wants to try his hand with a clipboard. Coaches already refer to him as “Coach McKoy.”
“I love the game, I’ve been playing it since I was four years old,” McKoy said. “I love to be involved in it. I love everything about it.”
He also loves his school, which he name-drops in interviews all the time. It makes a lot of sense. It’s been a long road to success, both for Western and McKoy, neither of whom were on any kind of football radar just a few seasons ago.
McKoy was a star at Stratford High School, and received plenty of Division 1 interest, including offers from Iowa and Temple. But his SAT scores weren’t good enough to get him into either school, so like many talented athletes who don’t have the grades to match, he enrolled in junior college, where he played defensive back and safety.
After a year at Garden City Community College in Kansas, and one at Eastern Arizona College, McKoy grew homesick. He decided he wanted to play closer to home, so he transferred to West Conn.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride, a rocky road,” McKoy said. “I’m grateful for the journey. Every lesson I’ve learned along the way has helped me to get where I am now.”
Talk about roller coasters. The once-proud Colonials were on a straight drop, having lost 28 straight games from 2009-12. When McKoy arrived, coaches weren’t sure where to play him. They thought his athleticism lent towards a future at wide receiver, but eventually decided to put him at running back so he could get an extra 20 touches per game.
That move worked out pretty well. McKoy scored a touchdown to help break the 28-game skid late in the 2012 season. He hasn’t slowed down since.
“He’s the hardest working guy I’ve ever had on and off the field,” said Loth. “The day after he broke the record, he was in the weight room the next morning. Literally, I came in Sunday morning at around 6:30, and he was there. He met me in my office.”
It’s that type of work ethic that has McKoy in position to get a look from NFL scouts. Loth said that one had visited the West Conn football offices recently. A scout from the Indianapolis Colts who came to watch Western defensive back Tory Mack a few weeks back came away impressed with McKoy.
Despite all of the attention, Coach McKoy is taking everything in stride.
“It’s been surreal,” he said. “I’m just taking it all in. If the opportunity [to play professionally] comes up, I’ll take full advantage of it.”
“As a kid, that’s what you dream of,” he said. “But I understand what I have to continue to do.”
For now, he’s completely focused on UMass-Dartmouth. Seriously. The Colonials are 5-2, and as coach Loth has told his troops, 7-2 sounds a lot better than 5-4.
“I don’t want to lose at anything, I’m very competitive,” McKoy said.
And great at ruining stories.