NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Gerald McCoy thinks he's ready to make the jump to the NFL. But along with his football future, McCoy has someone else's dreams on his mind.
McCoy lost his mother, Patricia, to complications from a brain aneurysm before he even got a chance to play at Oklahoma. Yet her dreams live on because of her son.
When McCoy walked across a stage to get his degree from Oklahoma last week, it was the fulfillment of one of Patricia's wishes. He could have left school early after the Sooners played for the national championship last year, but the jovial defensive tackle stuck around.
"The main reason I came back is because of her. I think she'd be proud that I stayed in school to work to get my degree because what's she's all about is school," McCoy said. "She loved football but she could care less whether I played football or not. She wanted me to get my degree and she knew how important school was."
McCoy has another mission beyond getting his degree and playing pro football. He recalls driving around with his mother one day when they passed a shelter and she told him how she wanted to build one of her own. She even had a plot of land picked out to build it. She only needed the means to buy it and make it happen.
McCoy envisions it as a place for people who find themselves homeless, out on the street with nowhere to turn.
"I've known people, they went to my high school, who had kids and they just couldn't afford to live where they stay," McCoy said. "They got evicted and needed somewhere to go for a few days until they figure something out."
He wants to help, and his success at Oklahoma has opened the door for him to do just that. McCoy was the USA Today defensive player of the year in high school and lived up to his billing as a dominant force in the middle of the Sooners front line.
McCoy became perhaps the most vocal leader of a unit that ranks seventh in the nation in scoring and total defense. And he went beyond that: Coach Bob Stoops told of how, after playing every single defensive snap in a game, he'd return on Mondays to do his assigned running. He'd then lead the charge when it was time for the offensive linemen - not even his personnel group - to run.
"Gerald has been an amazing individual and young man to be around here for four years. He lifts everybody up he's around," Stoops said. "He's been an amazing leader. Not many guys through here as a sophomore and junior are captains.
"I could go on and on for an hour, not even talking about his ability on the field. And then you put him on the field, and he has the strength and quickness to be such a special player."
A likely first-round pick - and projected by many experts to go in the top 10 - McCoy could soon have the means to make another of his mother's dreams a reality. He announced last week that he would skip his senior year with the Sooners (7-5) to head to the NFL, making the Dec. 31 Sun Bowl against Stanford (8-4) his last college game.
"Once she passed away and then I started to see where I might be able to go, I always said to myself, 'If I get a chance to get a little bit of money, I'm going to do that for her and put it in her name,"' McCoy said. "It's just something I always wanted to do because she was so passionate about it. She was all about people, just like me. That's just something I want to do for her."
McCoy said he's already started examining the possibilities and talking to people about how he would go about building the shelter, which he plans to build in his hometown of Oklahoma City. But, he says, "that'll be in the future."
Until then, he's going to keep enjoying the game he learned to love from his father, Gerald Sr., and the same game that could allow him to honor his mother's wishes.
"My father always told me, 'Have as much fun as you can while you're in college because you only get it once. You don't get it back.' My mother always used to tell me, 'Why not have fun while you've got the opportunity?' So, that's what I did. I tried to make the best of it," McCoy said. "I enjoyed college while I had it, and I've had a lot of fun.
"I'm going to miss college, but I think I'm ready to move on."