What is it like to wake up every day for almost a decade to go to work at the same place, only to wake up one day and... not?
Newly signed Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy knows a little something about that. At 31, he’s on a new NFL team for the first time in his career after spending nine years with Tampa Bay.
He’s introducing himself to a new city, a new fan base and a new system. He’ll be managing life as a husband and father of five while working under a one-year, win-now deal with Carolina.
McCoy has had to deal with change in the past. And those experiences are now helping him reposition himself in Carolina.
Back in 2010, when McCoy was selected third overall out of Oklahoma by the Buccaneers, he had to adjust to the NFL in a way only top-5 draft picks must.
“All of the sudden, you get drafted, this 22-year-old kid, living in a completely different state,” McCoy said Tuesday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium, shortly after officially signing his $8.5 million contract with the Panthers.
“And, you’re a high draft pick, so people expect a lot of you. I would say that moment is most similar to this one.”
McCoy earned All-Pro honors in 2013 and is a six-time Pro-Bowler. His daily routine was working for him, to say the least. But five months ago, he decided it was time to make a physical change.
So McCoy went vegan, a life-altering decision borne of feeling a little stiffer in his joints and wanting to keep his body at the highest competitive level.
Completely revamping his diet taught McCoy so much that he was inspired to hire a documentary team to follow him through the upcoming year. Of course, he didn’t realize at the time that he’d be cut by the Bucs in May.
“We were trying (back then) to think of what we were going to title (this documentary),” said McCoy. “I think we came up with the name ‘Transition.’
“And how fitting that I switched over to being a vegan and I switched teams. It’s all about transition.”
McCoy will also have to adjust from playing as strictly an interior defensive lineman in Tampa Bay’s four-man front to a defensive end in a three-man front — a role that the Panthers hope will maximize both his dynamic athleticism and his ability to eat up space in front of linebackers.
“Well, I believe if you can play football, you can play football,” said McCoy. “I’m a defensive lineman. Being a defensive lineman requires you to be like a Swiss-Army knife. You have to play nose tackle. You have to play three (technique), you have to play five (technique). You have to play everything.”
But the Panthers’ players and staff made it clear to McCoy that while his location, his role and uniform — and perhaps even his jersey number — will change, they don’t want him to change who he is.
That was made clear to McCoy — even in small gestures — when he visited the Panthers last Friday.
The group of six Panthers players who took him out to lunch — Trai Turner, Shaq Thompson, Luke Kuechly, Christian McCaffrey, Greg Olsen and Kawann Short — picked a vegan restaurant. McCoy had to help all of the carnivores order, but he didn’t mind because they were accepting his lifestyle for what it was.
“Those guys showing up, and actually being in-tune and excited to be there — I’m a vegan, and we went to a vegan restaurant!” laughed McCoy. “All of those guys showed up ... I left that lunch feeling like I could fit right in here.”
While not present at the lunch, quarterback Cam Newton reached out to McCoy several times as well. The two have shared a longtime, mutual respect, particularly each others’ sense of individuality.
“He wasn’t afraid to be himself,” said McCoy. “He doesn’t care how you feel about it. And that’s me. I’m going to be me. I’m going to have a great time, the same way he does, so I think we’ll mesh well.”
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera thinks so, too. And amid all of the change, McCoy found comfort in the fact that Rivera doesn’t want him to alter a single thing about himself.
“(Rivera) told me, he said ‘Whether you choose to come here or not, I have a lot of respect for you,’” recounted McCoy of his breakfast last Friday with Rivera.
‘“But if you do choose to come here, I’m just going to let you be you.”’