TAMPA – Tyriq McCord’s journey to the podium Tuesday afternoon had its share of stumbles and nervous moments, but when the Jefferson senior defensive end took the microphone, he shined brightly, revealing the kid beneath the All-American label he had just received.
This was a day the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder has been waiting for since he accepted an invitation to play in the annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl, the nation’s premier showcase event for high school football players, in August.
Tuesday’s event was mostly a formality. In Jefferson’s auditorium – in front of teammates, coaches, supporters and family – McCord officially became just the second player from football-talent rich Jefferson to make the U.S. Army All-American Game. Former Dragons quarterback and current Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Andre Caldwell played in the game in 2003.
“As a freshman,” said McCord, the 71st-ranked recruit in the nation and the seventh-best weakside DE in the nation by Rivals. “I never knew I’d be in this place.”
McCord will play in the U.S. Army game, slated for Jan. 8, at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The game, which includes 90 of the best high school seniors in the nation, will be broadcast nationally on NBC.
It’s marked the culmination of a long journey for McCord. He came to Jefferson as a basketball player, but after watching the Dragons’ football team practice early his freshman year, he changed his mind.
“The day he saw the kids playing on the football field, he wanted to switch to football,” his mother, Frances McCord, said. “He had trained all summer for basketball, but there was something about football.”
McCord said it was the influence of his cousin, former Jefferson standout offensive lineman Daron Rose, who played on the Dragons’ 2004 state finalist team and went on to play briefly at Florida State.
“I thought to myself, maybe I could be that guy,” McCord said. “Maybe I should give it a chance.”
On the field, he stood out immediately, but his grades slipped, and he was ineligible to play in Jefferson’s spring game his freshman year.
“I slipped up under a 2.0,” McCord said. “It’s that feeling you get from standing on the sideline knowing you should be there for your team and help them win. Seeing them loss, it really hurt because I saw how I put my teammates in a bad position. I didn’t want to feel that feeling any more, so I got my school together and did right in the classroom because I know that’s where it starts first.”
McCord says he now carries a 3.5 grade point average.
“When he wasn’t able to play, it was kind of a slap in the face to him,” Jefferson first-year coach Jeremy Earle said. “He’s done a really great job in the classroom since then. He’s come a long way.”
So on Tuesday a teenager who learned from his early high school struggles to become one of the top players in the nation stood before onlooker.
He thanked his teammates for sticking by him. He thanked Earle and former head coach Mike Fenton, who guided the Dragons to the 3A state crown last year.
Then he thanked his mother for always being there to help him with math. He thanked his father, George, for teaching him that “loyalty, honor and respect is character.”
“I’ve been nervous all day,” said McCord, who averages 5.5 tackles and has 12.5 sacks this year. “I didn’t know how it was going to be. I didn’t know what I wanted to say. I knew I wanted to save my parents for last. I laid it all out there. I almost shed a tear there.”
McCord, who has narrowed his college choices down to Georgia, Florida, Miami, South Carolina, Southern Cal and TCU, said there’s a strong possibility he announces his commitment at the U.S. Army game.
“It’s a great blessing,” he said. “Not too many people get the chance to do this.”
Reach Times staff writer Eduardo A. Encina with story tips and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @EddieHometeam.