Second-year Los Angeles Chargers safety Dexter McCoil was able to make good on a 4-year-old pledge Saturday morning.
McCoil returned to his native Lutcher, and along with four other NFL players conducted his first youth football camp for kids ranging in ages 8-16 at Lutcher High School where the former standout was part of two state championship teams.
“It’s been a dream of mine, if I was fortunate, to be someone who could give back to my community, especially to the youth,” McCoil said. “I wanted to be a good role model to the young men where I’m from, to be able to do things that I didn’t get a chance to get when I was younger.”
McCoil’s message was rooted more in the fundamentals of life, primarily education, than it was about basics of football.
Not only had McCoil played and achieved great success on the same field through 2008 under coach Tim Detillier, he attended Tulsa University where he left as the school’s career interceptions leader and with a degree Exercise Sports Science in 2013.
“In order to accomplish a dream, and to be able to continue to do what you want, you have to grind for what you want,” said McCoil, introducing the camp’s catch-phrase ‘Grind For What You Want.'
“That’s the person I’ve been my whole life.”
McCoil’s also serves as president over a company he founded by the same name.
Nothing could better define McCoil’s path. He was undrafted out of Tulsa before getting cut from the Arena Football League after five games and making a near cross-country trip to make a Canadian Football League tryout.
That’s not to mention the nine months he spent living with three other friends in a Tulsa, Oklahoma, apartment working out during the day and making enough money at night as a janitor at a local gym.
“I had to go through a lot of bad nights, a lot of ups and downs in the journey,” McCoil said. “It’s not a thing everybody could do. I never gave up on anything I did in life.”
Three games into his NFL career, McCoil was named a starter when then San Diego took the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to face the Colts.
It was the first of McCoil’s two starts a year ago. Recalling the moment, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound safety’s mind began racing in reverse, flooded with emotions filled with vivid markers of a tumultuous path leading up his goal of reaching the NFL.
“It was a surreal moment,” said McCoil, who played in all 16 of the Chargers games, recording 25 tackles, five passes defended and an interception. “Most people hadn’t been through what I’ve been through.”
Chronologically, the struggles began for McCoil right out of Tulsa, where he compiled 315 tackles, 18 interceptions and 43 pass deflections in earning all-Conference USA honors three straight years.
Projections had the hybrid safety/outside linebacker going between the fourth and seventh rounds of the NFL draft.
By the draft’s end, McCoil went undrafted. He didn’t warrant any free-agent deals, unleashing another torrent of emotions.
“I know what it means to cry on draft night,” he said. “You think you won’t get the chance to fulfill the dream you worked so hard your whole life.”
There was a flicker of hope when the Oakland Raiders invited McCoil to their rookie minicamp, an opportunity that lasted all of three days before being cut.
McCoil returned home for a week before traveling to Tulsa. Realizing the need to cover living expenses, he worked cleaning bathrooms, mopping gym floors and folding towels.
It wasn't exactly the way McCoil envisioned the dream unfolding when he landed a spot on the AFL’s Los Angeles Kiss in January of 2014, another a short-lived venture that resulted in his release after just five games.
“That’s when you get to the lowest of the lows,” said McCoil, who estimated clearing $300-400 per week with the Kiss. “I’m trying to make it to the NFL, and got cut by the lowest football there is. Any other person would have just quit.”
Instead, McCoil veered ahead with his sights set on a weekend tryout in Atlanta with the CFL.
It was the ultimate test of McCoil’s persistence and perseverance in covering more than 2,000 miles in about 31 hours for the chance to be one of 400 hopefuls.
McCoil drove from Los Angeles to El Paso, Texas (more than 11 hours and 800 miles) and slept at a friend’s home. His car’s engine failed the next day, stranding him in Houston, where, with enough money to cover the fare, he caught a bus to Baton Rouge.
His parents met him in Baton Rouge, where McCoil took his stepfather’s car to complete the rest of the journey, arriving in Atlanta at 3:30 a.m.
“Those are the moments where you don’t care what you’ve got to do,” he said.
Four hours later, McCoil participated in the CFL’s tryout, ultimately landing a spot on the roster of the Edmonton Eskimos for two years. He was named the league’s Outstanding Rookie and was twice named an all-star, finishing with 76 tackles, three interceptions and two sacks.
The door that once seemed padlocked, had now opened, and McCoil fielded free-agent offers from New Orleans, Washington, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Minnesota and Chicago before agreeing to terms with San Diego, where he’s in the second year of a three-year contract.
“This is all a blessing,” McCoil said. “I wouldn’t change my journey for the world because it made me a better person. It made me the man who I am today.”