In the beginning, they called him Bruiser.
Horace McCoy III was never like the other kids. His parents, Horace II and Shelby, were former college athletes at Northern Illinois. Yet even they could not grasp why the second of their three children refused to sit still. More than that, they were constantly amazed by what he could do when he was in motion.
Horace III began walking at eight months old. He learned how to ride a bike at age three, through little more than watching his five-year-old sister try and fail to do it. He first dunked a basketball in eighth grade and once hit three home runs in a baseball all-star game. This spring, despite a sports hernia severe enough to require surgery, he posted a 40-inch vertical.
And along the way, he never, ever stopped.
So no one was necessarily surprised when, as a toddler, he caused a scene at his sister's dance recital by ramming full speed into a wall while wearing a tiny San Francisco 49ers helmet that Horace had brought home from a work trip. The nickname practically chose him.
"My mom started saying, 'He's a bruiser,'" Shelby says.
Bruiser quickly truncated into Bru and now, some 15 years later, it remains a unique name for a one-of-a-kind athlete. Bru McCoy, a consensus 5-star prospect according to 247Sports' composite rankings, is a football player who stands alone—a 6'3", 210-pound wide receiver-outside linebacker who, at the high school level, catches passes like Mike Evans, blitzes like Von Miller and intends to do both at whichever college he selects among his 27 scholarship offers.
"There's nobody that can literally beat any tackle off the edge consistently and can run routes and catch like he can," says JT Daniels, a 5-star USC signee and McCoy's former quarterback at Southern California powerhouse Mater Dei High School. "When you saw him his junior year, it was like, OK, this kid's got to be the best player in the country."
McCoy will have the opportunity to prove it this weekend in Frisco, Texas, at The Opening, an offseason showcase for the game's elite talent. Yet no matter where he ranks in the final prospect lists, he'll go down as an anomaly.
Over the past two decades, the West Coast has produced nearly every permutation of star recruit, beginning with run-of-the-mill two-way linemen and receiver-defensive back hybrids and veering deeply into the exotic. Long before he focused on defense full time, Vikings Pro Bowler Anthony Barr split his reps between running back and linebacker at Los Angeles' Loyola High School. JuJu Smith-Schuster played running back, receiver and safety at Long Beach Poly. And, of course, there's Myles Jack, the running back-linebacker who impressed enough at each to be named both Pac-12's offensive and defensive freshman of the year at UCLA in 2013.
But, "You just don't see guys that are big as [McCoy] is who play linebacker and also play receiver," says Greg Biggins, a national recruiting analyst with 247Sports who has covered preps for more than 20 years. "West Coast-wise, I can't think of another guy who did what he did."
The two positions are a study in contrasts, making a mastery of both seemingly impossible. It requires a certain, almost paradoxical body type—sinewy yet strong, explosive yet graceful. More than that, it mandates the endurance to rush the quarterback at full speed on back-to-back defensive downs then run go routes on the next offensive series. Considering the circumstances, excelling at one would be an achievement.
McCoy, however, dominates at each. As a sophomore, he led the Monarchs in sacks despite playing linebacker for little more than a year. Last season, as a true two-way player, he finished second to another 5-star Mater Dei product, Amon-Ra St. Brown, in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, and ahead of two other seniors who committed to Pac-12 schools. Now, with McCoy's recruitment in full swing, every school on his short list wants him to try both. He wouldn't have it any other way.
"I think he gets asked the question a fair amount, 'Would you rather make the winning sack, or would you rather score the winning touchdown?'" his father, Horace, says. "And he goes, 'Both.'"
"It's kind of like a decision for the future," McCoy says. "Say I do play in the NFL. Being able to play both ways makes me more dynamic. I'd hope that in a coach's eyes, they'll see, This kid can fit in anywhere if he's rushing the passer as well as he's catching the ball. He comes to this team, we can see which one he does better and now he's getting on the field faster."
The only debate is which role he does better. McCoy says wide receiver. It's his passion, the position he's played since middle school and where he's invested years of technical refinement. He readily admits he loves receiver "for the glory side of it," the opportunity to come through when the stakes are highest.
Comparisons to his style run the gamut of the NFL's biggest, strongest wideouts. Daniels sees DeAndre Hopkins in McCoy's smoothness, while Mater Dei defensive backs coach Frank McManus argues he better approximates Calvin Johnson. For Biggins, it's Keyshawn Johnson. McCoy, meanwhile, cites Julio Jones as the player he tries to emulate most. "Julio's kind of like a goal of mine," he says. "If I can get to be at that level or better, then I know I've accomplished something. "
But according to Mike Fletcher, director of football events at Student Sports, Bru may best resemble the famously physical Evans. Like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowler, McCoy plays receiver as though he's in a street fight, far more eager to slam into a defender than speed past him. "He wants to punish the defense," Fletcher says. "That's a guy who just wears on you as the game goes on."
That mentality is one reason nearly everyone quoted for this story wonders whether defense might be McCoy's true calling. He hits so hard that Scot Prohaska, Mater Dei's director of sports performance, gets a kick out of stories like the time the usually deferential McCoy sent a message to a mouthy reserve quarterback by tackling him violently enough during practice to launch him 10 yards upfield. A few hours later, the player's father called Prohaska wondering why his son couldn't urinate. "Bru, [literally] knocking the piss out of someone," the coach recalls with a chuckle, before noting that McCoy then made sure to give the kid a hug at school the next day. "That's Bru in a nutshell, right there," Prohaska says.
Unlike with wide receiver, McCoy is a ways away from mastering the nuances of playing linebacker. Much of this is by design. Fearful of overburdening him, Mater Dei mostly restricts McCoy's defensive snaps to sub-package plays in which he's blitzing off the edge in the Monarchs' 3-4 alignment. For now, his defensive body of work is all big moments and flash plays, and it's powered by instinct more than guile.
"You go out there, you figure it out," he says, which makes it that much more tantalizing to imagine how good he could become if he focused all his attention on defense.
"When you talk about Madden football, 100 being your top rating, [his potential is] probably an 84 offensively," says Prohaska, who also trains McCoy privately. "He's a 95 defensively."
Unlike at wide receiver, there is a strong consensus about whom he best compares to on this side of the ball. The slinky frame, the fluid change of direction and, most of all, the hellacious first step remind everyone around him of one player in particular.
"He's like a high school Von Miller," Biggins says. "As an outside 'backer, he looks like he could do everything and does everything better than everyone else."
The comparison hits especially close to home for McCoy. His neighbor is a photographer who frequently works with Miller, and McCoy sometimes peruses Miller's Instagram to see if he can catch a glimpse of his house in the background. He isn't ruling out a more regular transition to defense. But for now, his college goal is to continue down the track he's been on at Mater Dei—full-time wide receiver with some pass rushing mixed in.
All that's left to decide is where that will happen. McCoy intends to choose his college in January at the All-American Bowl, which gives him a little more than six months to pick from a list of contenders consisting of Texas, Oregon, USC, Washington, Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida State and UCLA. Of those, the Trojans are considered the prohibitive favorites. It's closest to home, and his idol, Reggie Bush, once played there. Even now, he wears No. 5 in Bush's honor. It's also where his friends St. Brown and Daniels chose to play, and Daniels is confident he can persuade McCoy to join them once more.
"I'd put money on it," Daniels says.
Perhaps he's right. But after years of friendship, Daniels ought to know better than to assume McCoy will make the conventional choice. He's far more likely to break the mold.