Texas QB dedicates season to late cousin, a Marine

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

By The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Shortly before Texas plays rival Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night, Colt McCoy will reach into his locker for a silver crucifix on a chain and put it around his neck.

He'll pause to look at a photograph of a Marine in dress uniform, and remind himself of who and what he is playing for this season.

McCoy is playing for that Marine - his late cousin, Sgt. Grant Hinds. They spent several summers in West Texas together when they were kids, hunting, fishing and romping around years before Hinds learned how to drive a tank and fight in a war.

Hinds wore the crucifix during three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before he died in April when injuries from a car accident cut short the life of a young man desperately trying to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares and depression. He was 25.

"Every game, I say, 'This is for Grant,"' McCoy said. "I want to play with the same heart and attitude he had with all the courage it took to fight for us."

McCoy and Hinds were like brothers growing up, said Debra McCoy, Colt's mother. Hinds was older by a couple of years and looked after Colt.

"He would pull Colt up with the older kids at times, or he would hang out with Colt and the younger kids," Debra McCoy said. "When I look back on them growing up, it was just hours of them either throwing a ball or fishing or running around on my dad's land, riding four-wheelers, anything outside."

Eventually, Hinds moved to Georgia and the visits became scarce, although the families always kept in touch. In Georgia, Hinds played football, basketball and baseball in high school before joining the Marines in the summer of 2001, before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

McCoy remembers talking to Hinds about boot camp and the training the Marines were putting him through.

"It was a struggle," McCoy said. "But Grant is one of the toughest guys. He said the worst part was the running part, waking up and being disciplined with people screaming and yelling at you."

Hinds was in the 2nd Tank Battalion, and his tank, Devil's Advocate, was leading a column in Iraq in April 2003 when it was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade. The grenade ricocheted from the tank's open turret hatch into the tank, killing Hinds' friend, Cpl. Bernard Gooden.

"It was a hard fight," Hinds wrote in message posted on a Web site.

McCoy tries to fathom the trauma and stress of combat that his cousin must have endured.

"They may lose their best friend," McCoy said, "and that's just another day."

Hinds was still fighting inner battles when he came home from his third tour in 2005 and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Debra McCoy said.

"He was really struggling with that," she said. "He really tried hard to get his life back together."

One of the things he enjoyed most was following his cousin's career. He kept a football signed by McCoy on his mantle. The two never spoke of what Hinds faced in war.

Despite those inner battles, Hinds enrolled at Kennesaw State University in Georgia and was on track to graduate in May when he died. He had been in a car accident the day before he was found dead on his couch in his apartment. He had a brain hemorrhage and almost certainly died in his sleep, said Mike Cosper, an investigator in the Cobb County medical examiner's office.

McCoy was fishing with his roommate, Texas receiver Jordan Shipley, when he got the news.

"He got out of the car and gave his mom the longest hug," Shipley said. "He didn't say much."

Every year, Texas coach Mack Brown talks to his team about making a personal dedication that season to someone special. Some do, some don't.

McCoy didn't dedicate his first two seasons as a starter to anyone, but knew he'd play for Hinds as soon as Brown mentioned it again. McCoy even got Brown to talk to Hinds' mother, Sandy Hinds-Biggers, about the significance of such a dedication within the team.

"I told her, 'I know you're proud of Grant and so am I,"' McCoy said. "I wanted it to be special for her. I called and said, 'I'd like to put coach Brown on the phone.' They talked for about 10 minutes. She was very emotional. She loves Grant and she misses Grant. Coach Brown told her Grant honored this country with his service."

Hinds' mother sent the crucifix her son wore in battle.

"She said it was just something she wanted me to have," McCoy said.

McCoy didn't talk publicly about dedicating his season to Hinds until the week before Texas' 45-35 win over Oklahoma on Oct. 11. Since then, McCoy said he's received many letters and e-mails from Marines applauding him for the gesture.

"They understand what Grant went through," McCoy said.

Playing for Hinds has brought out the best in McCoy on the field. With 3,134 yards and 30 touchdowns passing and a team-high 527 yards rushing for eight more TDs, McCoy is a top contender for the Heisman Trophy.

He was the clear front-runner until Texas lost to Texas Tech with 1 second to play on Nov. 1. Even in Texas' only loss, McCoy was superb, throwing two touchdowns as the Longhorns rallied from a 19-point deficit to take the lead with 89 seconds left before the Red Raiders pulled it out.

Texas will be a heavy favorite when the No. 4 Longhorns (10-1) play the Aggies (4-7) on national television. Texas is desperately clinging to hopes the Longhorns can still get into the Big 12 championship game and possibly play for the national title. And it's a game McCoy didn't win his first two years.

McCoy will wear Hinds' crucifix under his shoulder pads as a reminder to keep fighting.

"I just know he's up there watching, and I just want to give him a good game," McCoy said. "I don't wear that necklace ever except in the game. It's something no one but me can see. I just know it's there and I'm playing for Grant."