MOSCOW, Idaho – A year ago, Gevani McCoy came to Moscow having played a COVID-shortened four-game high school senior season, at 6-foot and 160 pounds and with his lone scholarship offer to play college football at the University of Idaho.
It was not a resume that promised early success.
By mid-October, however, injuries had hit the Vandals’ quarterback depth chart . Against 11th-rankled Montana, McCoy found himself in action, facing a longstanding rival. The Vandals went with the freshman as their primary signal caller, with Zach Borisch spelling him occasionally as a change-of-pace running quarterback.
McCoy completed 8 of 15 passes for 123 yards with two interceptions, and he was sacked five times.
But he bounced back from the hard hits and appeared to improve his confidence with every snap.
“The thought never crossed my mind” that he could not handle it, McCoy said.
The Vandals lost 34-14. In the fourth quarter, though, McCoy led a drive highlighted by a 35-yard pass to Kyrin Beachem. From the 13-yard line, he dropped a pass into the arms of Mekhi Stevenson, who had outrun a defender to the corner of the end zone, for McCoy’s first touchdown pass.
After the game, McCoy was already sounding like a veteran.
“I felt my guy was better than their guy,” he said of the touchdown. “I put it out there for him to make a great play, and he made a great play.”
Former Vandals coach Paul Petrino, who recruited McCoy, wouldn’t have been surprised. He once predicted McCoy was “going to be a great player here someday. He has the ‘it’ factor.”
McCoy got into three games as a freshman. A year later, under new Idaho coach Jason Eck, he is starting to fulfill the promise he showed then.
McCoy will likely never be physically imposing . Eck said he considered moving McCoy to cornerback last spring, but McCoy is a sturdier-looking 175 pounds now .
McCoy got was in the quarterback rotation last spring and played well enough to dispel plans to move him to the defensive backfield. In preseason camp, he was among a three-way competition to start with C.J. Jordan and J’Bore Gibbs. Two weeks before Idaho’s season-opening game against Washington State, McCoy learned he was going to get that opportunity.
Against the Cougars, Idaho was in it until the end. McCoy went 21 of 32 for 212 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, including one at the goal line as the Vandals were driving for a tying touchdown before falling 24-17.
The next week, McCoy threw for three touchdowns against Indiana in a respectable 35-22 loss.
In the Vandals’ home opener, he threw for 190 yards and another score as Idaho rolled over Drake 42-14.
In the Vandals’ first Big Sky Conference game a week ago in Flagstaff, Arizona, McCoy completed 18 of 20 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown in a 27-10 victory over Northern Arizona.
“Seeing his growth has been pretty amazing,” Eck said.
“He set the school record for completion percentage (against NAU), and there been some pretty damn good quarterbacks over the years there. Two of them are on the wall with retired jerseys.” Those would be Walter Payton Award winners Doug Nussmeier and John Friesz, who is also in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Eck said McCoy is characterized by “great emotional stability. He doesn’t get too high. He doesn’t get too low.”
McCoy credits some of this to UI offensive coordinator Luke Schleusner.
“He has a 24-hour rule,” McCoy said. “If it is super good or bad, you have 24 hours to let that game go and get on to the next one.”
It encouraged McCoy to move beyond the game-ending interception against the Cougars.
“That’s still going to hurt for a while,” he said.
“(McCoy) did a great job of extending plays, making guys miss, scrambling,” Eck said of the Northern Arizona game. “He plays at a really high level, and he continues to get better every week. That’s all you can ask of players.”
McCoy said it was only late in the fourth quarter against NAU that he realized he had such a high completion percentage. He was mainly focused on trying to play well before the 26 family members and friends who had made the trip to Flagstaff.
“I’m a very Catholic person,” he said. “I just thanked God for allowing me to play this sport that I love at a high level, and I asked Him to allow me to put on a show for them.”
Earlier this fall, Eck praised McCoy as an especially adept leader. It is reflected in the receivers McCoy throws to and the quarterbacks he competed against to start. The work he put in with receivers, beginning last spring, paid off.
“(Eck) has made me so much more comfortable with them,” McCoy said. “They trust me, and I trust those guys.”
This is evident in practice. Receivers never appear to give up on a pass pattern, running it all the way out and extending themselves to make a catch, sure that McCoy will put the ball where they can reach it.
McCoy said he, Jordan and Gibbs all felt like they could start.
“It was a friendly competition,” he said. “I definitely appreciated that they pushed me.”
Since then, freshman Jack Layne has joined the group. He came out of preseason camp as Idaho’s backup.
“Not too much has changed,” McCoy said. “We are all real supportive of each other. They try to give me pointers to help out. We are all real close.”
As well as McCoy has played this year, Eck said he is still improving.
“We had a few times (against NAU) where the play we called from the sideline was not the play we ran,” Eck said. “On our one sack, the play was a drop-back pass when we tried to call a run.”
But Eck said McCoy is easy to coach. The Vandals (2-2 overall), have a chance to go 2-0 in conference play for the first time since 2009 when they play host to Big Sky Conference opponent Northern Colorado in homecoming Saturday.
Idaho appears to be riding an upward trajectory, propelled significantly by its once-improbable, slender quarterback.
“Idaho took a shot on me,” McCoy said. “For that, I am forever grateful.”