Photo by John Baker/Huskers.com

McCaffrey Eager To Join QB Fray

By Brian Rosenthal

It’s 10:30 on a weekday morning in February, and Luke McCaffrey has his eyes locked in on a television screen in the office of Nebraska quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco, as Verduzco quizzes the Husker true freshman signal-caller.

This picture is one of many reasons McCaffrey enrolled early in January to join the quarterback room for spring football.

He loves to learn. He craves competition. He wants to push.

“I just want to help develop my game and to be the best player I can with the people around me,” McCaffrey said. “That’s another good thing about coming early, is to get experience and get chemistry with everyone. That’s something that is getting better day by day.”

Never mind that Nebraska returns sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez after a stellar true freshman season. That’s not stopping McCaffrey, who signed in December, from competing, while pushing Martinez, himself and others.

“Any football player wants to be the starter and wants to be the guy, so right now I’m there competing,” McCaffrey said. “Adrian did a great job last year and he’s a great guy, a great leader. But it’s still a game of competition. That’s what’s so beautiful.”

This certainly backs up what Nebraska coach Scott Frost said about McCaffrey at Wednesday’s signing day news conference.

“He’s a type of kid who’s not afraid of competition,” Frost said. “I can’t believe how quickly he’s come in here and learned stuff, how hard he’s been working and how excited he is.

“So I think we got a really good one in this class. We’ve got (another quarterback) coming in already for the next class that I can’t talk about. You’re not going to find an Adrian every day, but I love the kids that we’re adding, including at that position.”

Said Verduzco: “Like all quarterbacks we’ve had, they’re pretty passionate about the position. That’s intact. He’s really a bright young guy. In his own way, he’s a high-energy cat, which is awesome. Those things, from his personality standpoint, really stick out.”

That McCaffrey is in Verduzco’s office so often, while impressive, is also a sign Nebraska has recruited the right man.

“They’re all that way, otherwise you haven’t done a good enough job researching the young guy,’ Verduzco said. “Quarterbacks have to be that way. They should be that way. They’re all going to bring to the practice field and to each particular game their own personality. But as it would relate to their approach as what they need to, there shouldn’t be any difference at all, otherwise there will be issues.”

McCaffrey isn’t afraid of challenges, on or off the field. That’s evident with how he looks one straight in the eye while answering questions, his attention never wavering.

“That’s an important aspect," Verduzco said. “Sometimes they’re never taught this, but if there’s someone speaking to you, put both feet on the floor, sit up straight and track the speaker as he’s talking.”

Ranked the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the country by ESPN, McCaffrey, from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, led Valor Christian High School to a 14-0 record and Class 5A state championship his senior season. He threw for 2,202 yards as a senior, with 21 touchdowns and four interceptions, while rushing for 526 yards and eight touchdowns.

The plan from early on was for McCaffrey to enroll early, along with handful of other Nebraska true freshman players.

“The best part about being here early is you get a feel for the coaches and for the team more,” McCaffrey said. “Nothing has changed. You look at the team from the outside, and you see a great, well-developed, well-cultured team.

“The minute I stepped on campus, nothing changed. The coaches have been helping me get better and strive each day. The upperclassmen have great leadership, and you see action out of them, which is really cool. It’s not just talk. It’s really action.”

McCaffrey said he’s bonded with all the newcomers and early enrolled student-athletes – guys like Brant Banks, Jamie Nance, Wandale Robinson, Chris Hickman, Garrett Nelson and Nick Henrich.

“All of the newcomers have really come together and formed a bond, so from that sense we have some things to relate to about,” McCaffrey said. “But when it comes to developing, we’ve got a great quarterback room. Adrian and (Andrew) Bunch and Matt (Masker) and Noah (Vedral) have really stepped up and kind of taken me as one of their own. They’ve really helped.”

And how, exactly, does McCaffrey plan to push his predecessors?

“That will happen naturally, I think, where it’s not something you necessarily have to force or you have to take into action,” McCaffrey said. “It’s just the natural way of the game. No matter what, there’s always going to be competition.”

That’s likely something McCaffrey has learned from his football-centric family. His father, Ed, played 13 seasons in the NFL and was a part of three Super Bowl championships teams – one with San Francisco, two with Denver. His older brother, Max, played collegiately at Duke, then in the NFL with San Francisco, and another brother, Christian, excelled at Stanford before joining the Carolina Panthers. His brother Dylan currently plays at Michigan.

“You can imagine how he’s been raised, with Ed and Lisa, and then his three older brothers,” Verduzco said. “He’s fully intact, man.”

McCaffrey embraces his family’s football fame.

“It’s something that’s really cool to be able to have. It’s something unique,” he said. “It’s something that if you accept it, it’s awesome, and it’s a blessing.”

Sure, guys on the team will give him a hard time about his football bloodline. If he needs any advice on how to handle the matter, he can turn no further than to Husker wide receiver Kade Warner, also the son of a Super Bowl champion, quarterback Kurt Warner.

“He’s got a similar thing,” McCaffrey said, smiling. “We kind of relate to each other in that sense.”

Before spring football practices begin March 4, McCaffrey has obviously spent time in the weight room -- “I love weight-lifting,” he said. “I love it for the development of football.” – and in his playbook.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “The best part about it is, once you understand all of it, then you’ve got to pick up the tempo and get fast, and this offense can fully function how it wants to be.”

McCaffrey’s physical attributes aren’t a question for Verduzco.

“The issue is how fast can you make Valor Christian’s offense like our offense? I mean, he knew their offense … snap, snap,” Verduzco said.

“We saw the same thing with Adrian. It was just a matter of him getting reps and getting that memory bank of experiences. Everything last year, no matter what, was a new snap. Luke will go through the same thing, the same process.”

McCaffrey “played just about every sport under the sun growing up,” including basketball, track, a little bit of soccer when he was younger.

“The best part is, it teaches you how to compete,” he said. “Especially, team sports help you bond with others, and that’s something a lot of guys on the team have been able to do.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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