Steven M. Sipple: He likes Fran Tarkenton and playing in snow; McCaffrey just may be a prize
You might say Luke McCaffrey has a deep appreciation for the sport of football and the quarterback position in general.
“I go back to Fran Tarkenton as one of the quarterbacks who I watch and try to build my game after,” he says.
That would be Fran Tarkenton of the 1970s Minnesota Vikings.
Wait a second. Fran Tarkenton?
“He’s one of the first to kind of be a dual-threat quarterback and be able to have success,” says McCaffrey, who starred as a versatile QB this season for Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
The youngest of former Denver Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey’s four sons, Luke McCaffrey has a list of favorite quarterbacks, some old-school (thank heavens for YouTube) and some newer-school. He names Baker Mayfield, Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick and Doug Flutie.
“I also like Drew Brees a lot,” McCaffrey says. “He’s not a dual-threat guy, but he’s definitely up there. I like Vick because he was a big deal when I was growing up. He was a superstar who you’d go to watch changing the game a little bit. I mean, he helped change it to a way that could really fit my playing style. So growing up I wanted to go in the backyard and pretend I was Michael Vick scrambling around and making plays.”
It’s news to me that kids still go out and play in backyards. Good deal. As for McCaffrey, Nebraska has given him a chance to eventually guide its up-tempo spread offense, as he will be among the players who on Wednesday sign national letters of intent to essentially finalize their plans to play for the Huskers.
“You can see how electric that offense is,” McCaffrey says. “The best part you could see is how it improved throughout the year. You kind of got a glimpse of what their plan is for the future. They’re doing a great job of implementing that (offense) and also growing the culture.”
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound McCaffrey appreciates Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez’s energy and leadership ability.
“It’s something that’s really cool to watch, and I’m excited to learn from him,” McCaffrey says.
He was a full-time starting high school quarterback this season for the first time, leading Valor Christian to a 14-0 record and the Colorado 5A state championship. He completed 162 of 293 passes (55.3 percent) for 2,202 yards and 21 touchdowns, with only four interceptions, while rushing for 526 yards (6.5 per carry) and eight touchdowns.
“I feel like it went really well,” he says. “Just being able to build a relationship with all the guys. I have a couple best friends who’ll be there for my whole life now because of this season.”
He also liked watching younger players grow into critical roles. He says it with genuine satisfaction in his voice — his mature outlook indicating the attitude and wisdom of a leader. He says he enjoyed being the leader of an offense.
“I think it’s something that’ll help you for football and for life,” he says. “It helps to build connections and make friends in multiple areas.”
McCaffrey talks like a quarterback, looks like a quarterback and studies the position. But former Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre, fired a month ago, didn’t recruit him as a quarterback, hoping to make him a receiver (“They kind of fell off from all of this pretty early,” McCaffrey says). To be sure, McCaffrey is all-in in his desire to play QB.
He shows poise in the pocket and an ability to escape pressure. That was particularly evident in a late-season win against Grandview, when he dodged four defenders in snow on a critical scramble.
“We were up 21-0 in the first quarter, with beautiful weather, and right when the second quarter hit there was 35-40 mph winds and so neither team could do much,” he says. “It was a blizzard the whole second half — snowing sideways. Our team was just fighting.”
McCaffrey says he enjoys cold-weather games. He pays the cold no mind and makes sure his hands are warm, just like Tarkenton used to do in Minnesota. The Vikings weren’t in a billion-dollar indoor stadium when Fran the Man was lighting up defenses, as McCaffrey points out.
He’ll arrive in Lincoln in early January in advance of the Jan. 7 start of the semester. His roommate will be Garrett Nelson, a class of 2019 scholarship defender from Scottsbluff.
“We’ve built a good relationship,” McCaffrey says. “I can’t wait to get out there. There’s kind of a freedom in recruiting being over and actually being able to get there and do what they recruited you for.”
If he ever gets bored, McCaffrey can watch Tarkenton or Vick highlights on YouTube.
“I get a little nerdy in that aspect,” McCaffrey says. “I’ll just watch football for hours on the weekends, just looking at different players.”
Someday kids may watch and emulate him — they may be doing it already.