AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Colt McCoy is bigger, wiser, stronger and, according to his coach, playing better than ever. He's even an NCAA record-holder.
Now if he could just grow some whiskers.
The Texas quarterback says he's resigned to "looking like a 12-year-old -- a young 12-year-old." Hey, his daddy didn't call him the "baby-faced assassin" for nothing when he was slinging those 29 touchdown passes last season.
McCoy, who turns 21 in September, may look like a kid, but there's little question he has become the leader of the No. 4 Longhorns as they aim for their second national championship in three years.
"This is his team now," coach Mack Brown said. "Colt looks the best I've seen him look."
Impressive, considering he tied an NCAA freshman record for touchdown passes last season when he was just supposed to be a placeholder at the position in the post-Vince Young era. His 29 TDs were more than Young threw when Texas won the national title in 2005.
McCoy, who comes from the small West Texas town of Tuscola (population 714), redshirted his first year and matured quickly after stepping in for Young.
He had to. Texas fans couldn't expect him to make the jaw-dropping plays Young did, but they weren't going to tolerate a long learning curve either.
Completing 68 percent of his passes for 2,570 yards quieted his critics. Comeback victories over Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas Tech and Iowa in the Alamo Bowl shut them up altogether.
After that kind of season, it would have been easy to relax while getting all those pats on the back around campus. Instead, McCoy hit the weights to put on 15 pounds, bulking up to around 210. You can actually see some muscles in those arms now.
"I spent a lot of time in the weight room trying to put on some weight and get bigger so I can take a few more hits," he said. "You know you're going to get rocked in the Big 12, so you have to be ready."
McCoy got popped last season and got hurt. A hit on the shoulder pinched a nerve that knocked him out of the first quarter of a 45-42 loss at Kansas State, which ended any chance of the Longhorns repeating as national champs.
He still wasn't fully recovered two weeks later and played his worst game in a 12-7 loss to Texas A&M, a defeat that cost Texas the Big 12 title. Adding insult to injury, he was carted off the field late after reinjuring the shoulder, prompting some A&M fans to mock him with the nickname "Cart McCoy."
McCoy came back a month later to lead Texas to the bowl win. If the injury proved anything, it was that the baby-faced gunslinger was already Texas' most valuable player.
"It seems the life went out of our team when Colt got hurt," Brown said. "That was disappointing."
Last year, McCoy had to win a preseason battle with hotshot recruit Jevan Snead for the starter's job. Snead played well subbing for McCoy in the Kansas State loss, but he transferred to Mississippi before the bowl game.
With a season of experience and no one looking over his shoulder, McCoy is emerging as a vocal leader who is respected by teammates.
"Sometimes, a guy speaks, it's part of his personality, but you really don't respect him," senior receiver Limas Sweed said. "Him, he has the credentials to back it up."
Texas needs leadership after some disturbing off-field incidents over the summer that involved several players being arrested.
Linebacker Sergio Kindle and defensive end Henry Melton will miss the first three games as punishment for drunken-driving arrests. Freshman defensive lineman Andre Jones is suspended indefinitely while facing a felony burglary charge.
McCoy said the team has put those incidents in the past.
"Everything about this team is positive energy. We're not dwelling on anything negative. We hope the best for those guys," he said.
McCoy's leadership will also be tested through how he relates to the freshman quarterbacks behind him. If McCoy gets hurt again, one of them will play. McCoy said Young nurtured him, and now it's his turn to be the guiding hand.
When redshirt freshman Sherrod Harris got hurt in training camp, freshman John Chiles was thrust into the No. 2 spot, putting him one play from stepping on the field less than a year removed from high school.
McCoy at least had a season to sit, watch and learn. Chiles must be ready to play.
"John is coming along," McCoy said. "He knows he's going to have to step up, and he's really great at running the ball. He's doing really well, he's speaking up, he's talking. I'm proud of where he is right now."