AUSTIN, Texas - There was a time when Colt McCoy's voice cracked in the Texas huddle. Today, he commands it with a hard look or a stern word if needed.
The self-described "stick figure" weighed 185 pounds soaking wet just a few years ago, when his body would break down and tire over the course of a season. That was before he added nearly 30 pounds of muscle.
The quarterback also used to live and play in the shadow of Vince Young, who led the Longhorns to the 2005 national championship. That was before McCoy led Texas to the No. 1 ranking and had the Longhorns included in the hot debate over who should play for the title this season.
Along the way, the redshirt junior passed Young in career victories, and just like Young in 2005, is one of the finalists for the Heisman Trophy, along with Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Florida's Tim Tebow. The winner will be announced Saturday.
"He's been the heart of our offense," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "He means to this team what Vince Young meant to the one in 2005."
McCoy's regular season ranks among the best in school history.
With 576 rushing yards, he leads the Longhorns by 200 and is second on the team with 10 rushing touchdowns. His 3,445 yards passing and 32 touchdown passes are school records, and McCoy's 77.6 percent completion rate will smash the NCAA record if he maintains it against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
He was so good that Brown says McCoy out-Tebowed Tebow, Florida's 2007 Heisman winner.
"He's done for this team what Tim Tebow has done for Florida," Brown said. "I can't imagine a player that means more to his team than Colt does to ours."
McCoy was at his best in Texas' toughest games. Against No. 1 Oklahoma, he rallied Texas in the second half to a 45-35 win.
Even in Texas' only loss, McCoy's two touchdown passes rallied the Longhorns from a 19-point deficit to the lead with 89 seconds left before Texas Tech won on a touchdown pass from Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree with one second remaining.
Add it all up and McCoy is 31-7 as a starter, with nine career second-half comebacks.
McCoy was a solid if unspectacular recruit from the tiny West Texas ranching town of Tuscola, considered by many a backup plan when Texas did not sign that year's big-name player, Ryan Perrilloux.
"If you saw where I played high school, you'd know why I wasn't a [big] recruit," McCoy said.
Brown, however, knew he had found a player with the potential to be special.
"We saw the same things in high school you're seeing now," he said, adding that the question was: Could he get bigger and stronger?
"We never questioned his ability to play," Brown said. "He has worked really hard to answer every flaw."
When McCoy showed up on campus, some of his teammates weren't impressed. "Scrawny" is how defensive end Brian Orakpo described his look as a freshman in 2005. "Goofy" is how tailback Chris Ogbonnaya put it.
Today, they call him their leader.
A coach's son, McCoy knew what he was up against in practice and the weight room. He also had the confidence to believe he could be the guy to step in when Young, one of the greatest athletes to wear burnt orange, was ready to leave.
McCoy called his first workouts, in which he could bench-press 225 pounds only two times, "embarrassing." He dedicated himself to strength coach Jeff "Mad Dog" Madden's high-intensity training regimen, which sometimes has players flipping huge tires and throwing sledgehammers.
"I knew I had the tools," said McCoy, who now benches that weight 16 times. "It was up to me to put them to work."
"He changed the whole scope of his body," Madden said. "He saw Vince Young throwing the steel around and followed him. We pushed him both mentally and physically."
McCoy spent his redshirt season watching and learning from Young, who commanded respect in the locker room and seemed effortless in his play on the field.
When Young bolted for the NFL in 2006, McCoy was left in charge of a huddle full of senior offensive linemen, including three future pros.
McCoy could barely even grow whiskers and "looked like he was 12" standing next to those guys, Brown said.
McCoy said he was so nervous back then, he could barely speak.
"All eyes are on you," he said. "They're going to watch what you do on the field, and you have to keep your head."