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Oklahoma tragedy carries mind of Bucs' McCoy home

TAMPA

This was his state, and these were his friends, and so this was his pain, too. And Gerald McCoy could not turn away.

Hour after hour, the Bucs defensive tackle watched as the television showed the horrifying images of the tornado that ripped up Oklahoma last week. After all, the city of Moore is five minutes from where McCoy grew up, and as he watched, he recognized this building, and that school. Something inside of McCoy felt hollow.

He kept calling, and texting, and emailing. Anything to reach his loved ones. Everything to make sure they were okay. What he saw left McCoy heartsick. Even later, when he had to drive somewhere, he kept the images playing in the car on his iPad.

After all, home never goes away.

Neither, it turns out, does that powerless feeling a man has as a tornado alters the things he knows best.

"It's like deja vu," McCoy said softly.

It was 14 years ago, and McCoy was 11, when the big tornado of 1999 traveled a similar path through Moore. McCoy still remembers the sirens, and the sound of destruction from outside. He remembers hiding in the bathtub, frightened, although that tornado didn't come close to his house, either.

"I remember it as a kid, my dad taking me to see everything," McCoy said Wednesday at practice. "You could hear the horns, and you could hear things being torn up.

"If you don't experience a tornado, you really can't understand it. It's something you can hear about and wonder about, but it's not fun to be around."

McCoy shakes his head. He is a large man, but there is a caring nature to him. This devastation has hit him hard.

"Gerald cares," is the way Bucs coach Greg Schiano puts it. "He has a big heart."

For the record, McCoy has already donated funds toward the relief, although he declines to say how much. He has persuaded the Bucs to contribute, too.

Soon, the 25-year-old will go home. His father is scheduled to be remarried in two weeks, and McCoy is scheduled to be married two weeks after that. There is some celebrating to do.

Also, there is help to provide.

"I'm going to do whatever I can to help," he said. "I'm not just going to see it. It's not something I think people should take pictures of or go see. If you're going to go down there, go help. Don't go see it and leave."

In the 10 days since the tornado, there have been a lot of people trying to help. Country music artist Blake Shelton. NBA star Kevin Durant. Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops. Across America, people have contributed.

"It's amazing the way America has banded together," McCoy said. "A tragedy like this shows how strong our country is. A lot of people take stuff for granted and don't realize how blessed we really are. Now you see this, and it opens people's eyes."

For those in the Tornado Alley portion of Oklahoma, tornados are a way of life. McCoy can remember tornadoes that came toward his home, then somehow missed it. But this? Another tornado hitting a neighborhood so close to his own?

"It took the same route," McCoy said. "It's real confusing. What is it about that area? Why is it hitting that same spot? It's people's homes. It doesn't matter why they live there. It's homes. It's my home, and I love it."

As for McCoy, he got lucky. His friends and family, including an aunt who was in the hospital when it collapsed, were fine. But this was bigger than just the McCoy family.

"It's hard to say I'm blessed when there was so much devastation," McCoy said.

And so the big man will not turn away this time, either. He has gone to the wallet, and he will roll up his sleeves and "do whatever they need me to do."

Odd. Someone asked McCoy about helping rookie defensive lineman Steven Means on Monday, and his answer was telling.

"I wasn't raised to sit back and watch," McCoy said. "If you see something that needs to be done, you go ahead and deal with it."

That's true on the football field. It's true with a tragedy.

Good for McCoy for knowing the difference.

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy rests during practice Wednesday at One Buc Place.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy rests during practice Wednesday at One Buc Place.

Oklahoma tragedy carries mind of Bucs' McCoy home 05/29/13 [Last modified: Thursday, May 30, 2013 12:35am]

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