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May 8, 2013

Coach's Corner: Christian McCaffrey



In a 1998 Sports Illustrated profile on then-Denver Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey, McCaffrey's wife, Lisa, a former soccer player at Stanford, quipped that her relationship with Ed had a significant practical benefit.

"That's why Ed and I got together," Lisa said, "So we could breed fast white guys."

Mission accomplished.

Two years ago, class of 2012 receiver Max McCaffrey signed with Duke. In the 2014 recruiting cycle, Rivals 250 running back Christian McCaffrey emerged as perhaps the top recruit in the state of Colorado. Last week, Christian McCaffrey made a verbal commitment last week to follow in his parents' footsteps on The Farm.

And while Christian is indeed a "fast white guy" - his highlight film provides confirmation of that - he possesses more than just speed on the football field, said McCaffrey's coach at Valor Christian, Rod Sherman.

"Toughness. Character. Work ethic," Sherman said. "(He's) just tremendous in each of those areas. His giftedness in each of those areas also really endears himself to his teammates. That combined with his unselfishness make him enjoyable to coach and also make him a team leader."

Valor Christian uses McCaffrey in all three phases of football to take advantage of his considerable skill set.

"We have a player that's as gifted as Christian is, one of the things we certainly want to do is put him in different positions to create mismatches," Sherman said. "We are fortunate to be able to use him as an inside slot receiver and he had 55 catches on the season and can run a multitude of routes from shorter option routes to vertical routes and just has the ability to make plays in space as a receiver. He also has the ability to be an I-tailback. I think you can see that through his recruiting that there aren't many players who have that level of flexibility to be a wide receiver and to be a running back. We've played him close to 50 percent of the snaps on defense in addition to being a punt returner and kickoff returner. He returned both punts and kickoffs for touchdowns on the year. So we used him frankly anywhere and everywhere we could to create mismatches."

Though he's probably capable of playing slot receiver, Sherman thinks that McCaffrey is best suited for the tailback position in Stanford's pro-style offense.

"I believe he's a tailback," Sherman said. "I think he's a running back who can do multiple things, but I know one of the reasons he's excited for Stanford is the ability for him to be an I-tailback. I believe you'll see him just as he goes, right now he's in three sports and as he transitions from three sports to specializing as a football player you'll see him add even a little more weight and mass and I think you'll see him grow into an absolute elite college running back."

Sherman compared McCaffrey to pair of current NFL running backs, including one who recently finished a decorated career in Palo Alto.

"I think of Ray Rice and what he has done with the Ravens in his versatility, getting the ball out of the backfield, catching underneath," Sherman said. "That's probably what I would say is a great comparison. I also think that the running back who played last year for the Cardinal, Stepfan Taylor, I think there are some similarities there. He was a tough back between the tackles but just the multiplicity of the Stanford offense allowed him to do different things."

Of course, as is the case with any high school running back, McCaffrey is far from a finished product. Sherman said that learning the various protections within Stanford's offense will be a critical step in McCaffrey's development.

"I think the biggest thing for any running back going from high school to college is to continue to learn more advanced protection schemes and learn how to cut block defensive ends and slide protections," Sherman said. "I know Stanford has a sophistication within their offense. It's extensive, and I think that he'll need to learn that. And again, he's very intelligent and he will be able to learn that. Myself and one of our assistants had the privilege to visit Stanford this spring to get to see the tremendous things that the entire coaching staff is doing and I think he will be an absolute perfect fit into the offense and the football program at Stanford."

With McCaffrey having upwards of 20 offers to his credit, and Valor Christian producing a number of BCS-caliber players over the years, Sherman has interacted with his fair share of college coaches. What stands out to him about the Cardinal coaching staff?

"Their professionalism. Their class," Sherman said. "Coach Sanford, Coach Pritchard, Coach Hart, Coach Shaw, I believe they have a great understanding of what they need for success in Palo Alto. I think they're diligent to continue to find players that fit into that, speaking with guidance counselors, finding out about the character of kids. They're as good as I've seen, as good as I've witnessed in knowing a lot about the kid that they desire to have there for five years."



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