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The spotlight's on Texas' Colt McCoy, and his tiny hometown basks in the glow

CHRIS DUFRESNE ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

The quarterback will lead the Longhorns into Thursday's Bowl Championship Series title game against Alabama at the Rose Bowl. And Tuscola, population almost 800, is bursting with pride.

January 06, 2010|Chris Dufresne

Reporting from Tuscola, Texas — The road sign on Route 83 that welcomes you to Colt McCoy's hometown needs updating because it states, "Tuscola, population 714."

That head count was taken 10 years ago.

"I imagine we're pretty close to 800 now," City Secretary Billie Pearce said from behind the counter at City Hall.

It was Dec. 22, and Pearce was about to celebrate her 78th Christmas here.

"If you saw where the funeral home is?" she said, pointing outside to Bartlett's parlor. "Right across the street is where I was born."

That was a few years after Tuscola, the entire town, was picked up and moved five miles to make way for the railroad. Chester, did you remember to pack the First State Bank?

Not much has changed, Pearce says, from the days when she walked eight miles to swim and spent afternoons playing an offshoot of hockey, on stilts, using tin cans. (It never caught on nationally.)

The major industries remain: cotton, wheat, cattle and high school football.

Pearce has seen everything that's fit to be seen in Tuscola. In 2002, when it rained 17 inches in three hours, Lucy Simpson had to be rescued off the top of her truck. There have been close brushes with tornadoes.

In the 1950s, Eddie "the Claw" Sprinkle, made it from nearby Bradshaw all the way to the Chicago Bears, where he earned the moniker "Meanest Man in Football."

Eddie Meador, Pearce's first cousin, rose from Ovalo to All-Pro safety for the Los Angeles Rams -- Pearce used to drive to Dallas to see Eddie play when the Rams visited.

Nothing, though, has affected the town as intimately as the ascent of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, who leads the Longhorns into Thursday's Bowl Championship Series title game against Alabama at the Rose Bowl.

"We've never had as much publicity as we've had with Colt," Pearce said. "Everybody knows where Tuscola is."

Pearce paused to wipe tears that were streaming down her face.

"I'm just emotional," she explained, "talking about Colt and the Cowboys. I cry when I'm happy, I cry when I'm sad. I cry when I see a flag."

McCoy has an NCAA-record 45 wins as a starting quarterback, holds 47 school records, and is Texas' only four-time team MVP.

If a town could bust its buttons, this one would.

Tuscola, at first blush, isn't much to look at. You'd say "Last Picture Show," except the town's only theater closed down.

Yet, you feel the closeness of community that comes when one of your own makes it big. Think, on a smaller scale, of Tupelo, Miss., and Elvis.

McCoy was born in Hobbs, N.M., but came to Tuscola in the seventh grade when his dad took over as football coach at Jim Ned High.

On a football field on the outskirts of town, 160 miles west of Dallas and 20 miles south of Abilene, McCoy made memories under one of hundreds of sets of lights that, from an airplane at 35,000 feet, dot the state on fall Friday nights.

McCoy went 34-2 as a starter, throwing for 116 touchdowns and 9,344 yards. His "whoop-dee-do" moment, as a junior, was leading Jim Ned to the 2A state finals.

"I loved it," McCoy said of growing up in Tuscola. "There were more people living in my dorm rooms in my wing when I got to Texas than in my hometown. People in small towns are so friendly, so nice. You know everybody; there are no secrets. Everybody knows where you are all the time."

Kay Whitton, who taught "introduction to business," accounting and college prep classes to McCoy at Jim Ned, is the leader of Colt's marching and chowder society.

Whitton has told McCoy, a 23-year-old fifth-year college senior, that it's OK now to call her Kay, but he insists on calling her "Miss."

Whitton agreed to give a tour of the town, starting at the Jim Ned High parking lot, where it was determined she should drive so a visiting reporter could jot down important notes.

It took five minutes.

Hopping out of her car on Graham Street, at the center of a downtown where "Gunsmoke" could have been filmed, Whitton waggled her finger.

"That's the American Legion hall there," she said. "The volunteer fire department is right there. A couple of churches are down that way, the funeral home is down that way, and the post office is right on Graham down that way a little bit."

So there you have it.

A complimentary copy of the Jim Ned Journal, "Your hometown newspaper," was available on the City Hall counter.

Front page headline: "Buffalo Gap City Purchases Truck"

Linda Stockton penned her latest roundup column, "Letter to Aunt Em," which included these snippets:

* "Watch out for huge yellow dogs! One took the grill out of a neighbor's car out north of town last week."

* "Lotsa disappointment last Saturday evening when the local boy-who-made-good didn't bring home the Heisman Award."

* "Debbie Stewart has come from Dripping Springs to help her brothers take care of their mom and dad a few days."

Whitton, who has been teaching in Tuscola for 16 years, buzzed the car back to the high school to show off the classroom where McCoy sat.

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