He is a pure running back at heart. Elusive, tough, fast, determined, strong, dedicated, and yet, humble. And most of all, grateful for his opportunity.
Ask Octavias McKoy for a comparison, a back with a similar style, a professional, current or past, that he looks to for inspiration and the Western Connecticut State University senior quickly rattles off a list of names with the quickness in which he attacks the line of scrimmage with his powerful 5-foot-11-inch, 205-pound frame.
“Barry Sanders . . . Jim Brown . . . Doc Blanchard . . . Walter Payton . . . Glenn Davis . . . Archie Griffin . . . Herschel Walker . . . Eric Dickerson . . . Red Grange . . . LaDainian Tomlinson . . . Bo Jackson.”
The young man knows his history.
“I truly feel that I am a combination, they all did something great,” said McKoy. “Barry Sanders was elusive. Walter Payton, tough. Red Grange? He outran people. Bo Jackson, he was explosive . . . ”
Magnificent running backs all, the majority with their busts in Canton.
And yet, McKoy now stands alone, at the head of the class.
“They didn’t do what I did,” he said proudly, but still humble, always lauding his offensive line by name: Johnnie Medina, Maleek Riley, Robert Carpenter, Mark Wildman, Jordan Smith, and tight end Chris Grise.
What McKoy did last Saturday, in a 55-35 MASCAC win at Worcester State University, was a performance for the ages — a staggering 43-carry, 455-yard, five-touchdown masterpiece.
“It was special just being a part of it,” said running back Tory Mack, a close friend since age 9.
In the history of college football, dating to the first Princeton-Rutgers clash on Nov. 6, 1869, no player has ever had a better day running the football, across all divisions.
“Run after run after run, you’re just shaking your head, and it looked a lot better on film on Sunday,” said Joe Loth, who, in his second year as head coach at Western Connecticut has injected life back into a Division 3 program that had fallen on hard times.
“But when the game was over, 43 carries, he was not even tired. He has got the best work ethic of any player I have ever coached.”
Loth’s 20-year career on the sideline has included successful head coaching stints at Kean and Otterbein, his alma mater, as well as assistant gigs at SMU, Capital, Rhode Island, and Western Conn.
When Loth was hired in the summer of 2012, a player mentioned, “Hey Coach, I’m not sure if you know who ‘Oct’ is,’ ” recalled Loth.
“I knew that he was a great high school player [down the road at Stratford High].”
But taking charge of a program that was in the midst of a 21-game losing streak, with no offseason conditioning program, few recruits, and fighting for survival in the rugged New Jersey Athletic Conference, Loth thought, “I don’t know if he will be able to show just how good he is.”
That took nearly a full season, because McKoy had not taken a handoff in a game since his senior year at Stratford High, in 2008.
An academic non-qualifier for the NCAA, McKoy headed to Kansas, and Garden City Community College, in the Jayhawk Conference, where the spots were limited (only 12 out-of-staters are allowed on a 50- to 60-player roster). And he was strictly a defensive back, splitting time between corner and safety.
“There was one particular drill, in preseason, the coach was standing right there, and I hurdled over a linebacker,” recalled McCoy. “He was a defensive-minded coach, and he wanted me on defense.”
McKoy was a presence, recording a pair of picks and blocking a pair of punts. “They treated me like I was the X-factor,” he said.
The following season, in 2010, it was more corner, safety, and nickel back, at Eastern Arizona, another junior college program. He received a few touches — on the scout team.
And then the admittedly immature McKoy stepped away from the game, and school altogether. He moved to Aberdeen, Md., to live with an aunt, and worked at Saks Fifth Avenue.
“I was trying to grow up,” said McKoy, whose has 13 siblings: five brothers, five sisters along with two stepbrothers and one stepsister. His timeout lasted a year and a half. Then it was time to chase his dream, and run again.
“I was grown up enough, I was ready to go back to school.”
There were other suitors, but he chose Western Conn., in Danbury, a 45-minute drive from his hometown.
“The program was struggling, but I saw energy, and the alumni was still supporting the program,” he said. “This is where I wanted to be.”
In his return to the backfield a year ago, McCoy was productive (680 yards rushing, 8 touchdowns), but not explosive (3.9 yards per carry).
“Every yard was a hard yard to get,” acknowledged Loth. And the Colonials were still losing, dropping their first seven games before a breakthrough, 20-14 overtime win over Montclair State in late October, halting the 28-game slide. “Oct” blasted in from the 1 for the winner.
“I have seen it time after time with players getting reacclimated to football, the second year, they take off,” said Loth. “This season, he is a bigger, stronger, faster, running back.”
Now 24, McKoy is running with a purpose for a program that has turned the corner in its inaugural season in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference.
The opener, a 44-7 romp over Nichols, was rather pedestrian , 84 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Then 16 for 165 and 3 TDs in a 35-3 pounding of Plymouth State, followed statistically, by his poorest showing, 91 yards and no touchdowns on 19 rushes in a 14-12 loss to Framingham State.
Loth felt it was time for a change in his backfield, where McKoy and Mack had been splitting the carries, similar to their time together at Stratford High under coach Duane Sheridan.
“I said ‘I think we have the best back in the country,’ ” said the coach. “He can not play [just] 38 of the 60 plays. He needs to be there all 60.”
McKoy mentioned to Loth that Mack liked defense more than offense. “So I asked Tory if he wanted to play defense. He could go back to offense next year,” said Loth.
“I wanted to do what was best for the team,” said Mack, who was at Virginia for two years, redshirting one, before moving on to Southern Connecticut, and this year, Western Conn.
The following week, McKoy broke out with 163 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-26 win over Bridgewater State. In a 54-53 loss to Massachusetts Maritime Academy Oct. 12, he could not have done more: a smashing 42-carry, 372-yard, five-touchdown effort.
Against Fitchburg State, he piled up 226 yards on an economical 22 rushes and five more scores in three quarters of a 70-14 victory. He was just warming up.
By halftime against Worcester State, in a 21-21 game, he had 227 yards and three touchdowns. At the end of three, 31 for 273, with game tied, 28-28.
“Usually, he is out at halftime, but we were tied, and we needed him to run the ball,” said Loth.
Oh, did he run, 12 eye-popping totes for 182 yards and a pair of TDs, including a backbreaking 71-yard gallop with 5:49 left, all part of a 27-7 blitz in the final quarter.
There was no thought on any kind of record, however, because the PA announcer in Worcester was not providing updates on McKoy’s yardage.
“At the end of the game, we had not seen the box score,” said McKoy, who, nonetheless, had been presented the game ball by Loth. “I was listening to music on the bus, I saw the box, and coach told me . . . I was tired . . . And personally, scoring the touchdown [against Montclair State] to break the streak last year meant more. That was for the program.”
Still, he earned a trek to Bristol, Conn., for a live appearance on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on Sunday night.
His 455 yards broke the 17-year-old mark (441) set by Marietta’s Dante Brown, in 1996, against Baldwin Wallace.
“I wish I had him five more years, I really enjoy coaching the kid,” said Loth, who said a professor walked into his office this week saying ‘‘she was so proud of Octavias.’’
“He is a once-in-a-lifetime experience as a head coach.”
Mack says his friend is extremely focused on the task at hand. “He won’t look back,” said Mack. “The biggest change I see is he is definitely more mature. And he knows that it is his last year.”
McKoy said he wants to “go out there and dominate.”
And he certainly has. Despite opposing defenses continually stacking the box, he is leading the nation (all divisions) in rushing (222.3 yards per game) and scoring (19.7 points per game) while averaging at gaudy 8.6 yards per carry. His 23 TDs match the total of Towson’s Terrance West.
“He definitely has the ability to play at the next level. If he walked out of the Boston College locker room, he would look like any other player,” said Loth. “And there is no questioning his leadership.”
Pro ball? McKoy says he is taking it one day at a time. “I just keep working hard, stay dedicated, and just trying to be my best.”
His focus is on two more wins, starting Saturday at UMass-Dartmouth. “Like one of the coaches said, 7-2 sounds a lot better than being 5-4.”Craig Larson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.