Dontae McCoy is a motivational speaker by trade. Saturday, the former Illinois State defensive back delivered a message powerful enough to lift up a room with 300-pound bodies in it.
He sought no pay. This one was on him.
The current Redbirds paid him back anyway, not in dollars and cents but with effort, intensity and, in the end, victory.
Coming off of two lopsided losses, including a 42-7 debacle last week at Southern Illinois, ISU coach Brock Spack turned over the locker room to McCoy just before the Redbirds took the Hancock Stadium field for their homecoming game against No. 4-ranked South Dakota.
“I got out of the way and just said, ‘Hey, it’s your team,’” Spack said. “We told him, ‘You have to hurry up because we have to get on the field.’”
McCoy got right to it. Shortly thereafter, so did his audience.
“He came in and he said some words that really touched us,” ISU receiver Spencer Schnell said. “I think him giving us that boosted the energy that we already had. I think it was really big to go out and start the game that way.”
ISU scored twice in the first 12 minutes, both on Schnell touchdown receptions. Facing a team that had outscored its opponents 87-13 in the first quarter, the Redbirds were up 14-0.
They went on to a 37-21 win that did the alumni proud, particularly those who, like McCoy, have more than a passing interest in what happens to ISU football.
McCoy was a senior starter on the 2014 Redbird team that reached the FCS National Championship game, losing 29-27 to North Dakota State.
His football comes indoors now with the Bloomington Edge, but he cares deeply about the standard he and his teammates helped create.
McCoy was among many former Spack players around the Kaufman Football Building on Saturday. His words spoke for all of them and hit the current players smack dab between the numbers.
“I think that was his message to our team, ‘This is a prideful program. This is a golden era and you’re part of it. And you have to do your part. You have to move on from the last two weeks,’” Spack said.
Thus, a season that had begun to teeter regained some stability at 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Four ranked teams remain on the schedule. Nothing will be easy. But McCoy’s pregame speech served to remind the Redbirds they also are a ranked team … No. 24 this week and surely to rise in the new rankings come Monday.
That is the standard: taking up residency in the national polls, competing for conference championships and getting in position for deep playoff runs.
Live up to it. Take ownership of it. Don’t settle. And one more thing: The ex-players are watching.
“I think that’s what they learned from Dontae, that there’s a lot of pride,” Spack said. “You try to tell them as a coach, ‘The guys who came before you set the template for you, they set the tone.
“They (current players) saw it live and in living color today. This is for real now. They (McCoy, et al) put their blood, sweat and tears in this and they don’t want to see you fail.”
Earlier in the week, Spack described his players as being “in a fragile place” after the back-to-back losses, adding, “We need to get back to who we are.”
A few hours later, the Redbirds walked off the field with restored identity.
“There are still a lot of things to improve. We had a ton of missed tackles that we have to change,” defensive end Jason Harris said. “But compared to the last two weeks, we played much more like the veteran team that we are.”
It's what McCoy asked to see. It's what he expects.
And he's not alone.