Chargers safety Dexter McCoil can’t wait to get back to the place where it all started.
"LA is LA," McCoil told Sporting News. "I feel like it's a dream place to visit. I think everybody should come visit, just to see how it is. I've just happened to had the opportunity to live there twice. It's a blessing."
McCoil's two-time path to Los Angeles is a winding one that has stretched across four time zones, three different professional leagues and two countries. McCoil parlayed a successful stint with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL into a shot with the Chargers, but it took thousands of miles in the car to get there after his college career at Tulsa ended.
McCoil was a standout safety for the Golden Hurricane from 2011-14, when he had 18 career interceptions. Like so many players chasing the dream, however, he went undrafted. After a failed rookie tryout with the Raiders, he settled for work in Tulsa as a janitor at a fitness gym before he took the first trip to Los Angeles. That was with the Los Angeles Kiss of the Arena Football League, who signed him in January 2014.
McCoil bounced from practice to practice and remembers the drive to home games at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. He played in five games before he was released.
McCoil remembers thinking it was over, but that fleeting thought didn't last. He found out about a CFL tryout in Atlanta, but transportation was the question. McCoil tells what happened next knowing every detail.
"I packed up all my stuff drove from LA to Louisiana, but when I get to Houston, my car broke down," McCoil said. "I took the bus to Louisiana to use my stepdad's car to get to Atlanta for the last CFL tryout."
He drove with a friend through the night to Atlanta and arrived at 3 a.m. for the morning workouts. McCoil was one of 400 participants in the tryout, and that’s how he ended up with the Eskimos.
So, that path runs from Los Angeles to Lutcher, La., via bus from Houston, then to Atlanta. McCoil took advantage of the next stop in Edmonton. He earned Most Outstanding Rookie honors in 2014 after compiling 67 tackles and six interceptions. He helped the Eskimos win the Grey Cup the following season.
"That was a great experience in Canada," McCoil said. "I’m thankful for the opportunity and was excited to be part of a team that won the Grey Cup."
McCoil then signed with the Chargers, with whom he finally lived that childhood dream. He played in 16 games last season and started in two late in the 2016 season.
"We had like 21 guys on IR," McCoil said. "You learn you are only one play away from being in your moment, in your time when they need you to step up."
But change is coming again. McCoil is playing for a new coach in Anthony Lynn and a new defensive coordinator in Gus Bradley. McCoil faces a fight to stay on the depth chart, but that’s what he has been doing since 2014. Bradley is a former safety, and that has helped with the transition.
"It’s a 4-3 instead of 3-4. In that type of defense, we're running more Seattle-type defense," McCoil said. "It's a little bit different, for sure, from what we've done last year. It's going to be good for us."
It could be good for McCoil, too. Four years after that first tryout with the Kiss, McCoil will be at fall camp with the Chargers in Los Angeles. He’s taking advantage of that blessing.
"It's amazing how God works, and it's circular," McCoil said. "LA is kind of me being at the worst of my worst being cut here, then coming back here and trying to be the best of my best. It's a great moment. It won't hit me until I actually get there."
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Before all that, however, McCoil is going back to LA, as in his hometown of Lutcher, La. McCoil will run the "Grind for What You Want" football camp on July 15 at Lutcher High School.
"People need to know that’s a part of me, giving back to others," he said. "That’s something that at a young age, I dreamt about being in the NFL at a young age, but I also dreamt about being able to give back to kids. Our future, because that’s what kids are. It’s about different opportunities and different outlooks on life."