On the first play of Luke McCaffrey’s sophomore year Hudl highlights, he’s lined up in the slot to the left of his brother, then-Valor Christian High quarterback Dylan.
From his own 9-yard line, Luke shapes a drag route across the formation under the middle linebacker while two right-side receivers pull defenders down the field with vertical routes.
The younger McCaffrey catches the ball, sheds the middle linebacker and turns up the right sideline, cutting back about the 45 and racing to a 91-yard touchdown.
On the second play, he’s lined up in the backfield and runs a wheel route. Later a fly sweep. Then a 93-yard kick return touchdown. At the 2-minute, 30-second mark, an interception — picked, not thrown, by him — earned by undercutting a slant route.
Make no mistake, though, the youngest in a family of football multi-talents is a quarterback. Plain and simple.
“I’ve played quarterback since I was in first grade, ever since I first touched a football,” McCaffrey, of Littleton, Colorado, said earlier this week after he pledged to the Huskers.
That’s what he’ll be in Lincoln. Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco, excited to have one of his top choices from the 2019 cycle, likes to say that the players he tutors have a particular way of seeing themselves. Clearly, McCaffrey has always seen himself as a signal-caller.
Even given NU’s willingness to roll the dice with athletic-but-unrefined passers, though, McCaffrey is an interesting case study. Per MaxPreps, his first two years playing for Valor Christian included just 87 pass attempts.
These days, of course, college coaches can see prep quarterbacks throw in a lot of different settings, from 7-on-7 leagues to camps to workouts to practice. But nothing’s quite like real, live action. McCaffrey has gotten a ton of it, just not at quarterback.
Consider McCaffrey’s high school stats through 24 varsity games: 66 catches for 824 yards (13.1 per catch) and 10 touchdowns; 104 rushes for 792 (7.6 per) and 11 touchdowns. 941 passing yards (75.6 percent completions and 12.6 yards per completion) and six touchdowns. Oh, and 539 kick and punt return yards, 59 tackles and a pair of interceptions.
Most of the receiving and defensive production came when McCaffrey was a sophomore. That was Dylan’s senior season before he headed to Michigan, where he now enters a redshirt freshman year under Jim Harbaugh.
“The thing about that year was that I got to play with my brother,” Luke said. “I really just got to not only learn the quarterback position from him firsthand but also the leadership he had and what it really takes to get under center and call some plays.”
Dylan’s not the only sibling that Luke’s been able to learn from, either. Not by a long shot.
Christian piled up yards, accolades and dazzling highlights as a do-it-all running back at Stanford and now does the same for the Carolina Panthers. Max caught 52 passes for 645 yards his senior year at Duke and had more than 1,300 career yards for the Blue Devils.
Three brothers: Quarterback. Running back. Wide receiver.
Luke’s been each of those in addition to playing corner and safety and the return duties. Verduzco often talks about the quarterback needing to know not only his job, but every other offensive player’s responsibility set and also what defenders are thinking.
McCaffrey, seemingly, has filled about half of those shoes already, and he thinks it’s beneficial to his pursuits under center.
“It helps, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” McCaffrey said. “Just being able to ID coverages, bumps, that stuff. And as a receiver, you learn where a person wants (the ball) and when.
“I think that was another thing that really intrigued me with (Nebraska) is that they understood that and they actually see it as a positive and not a negative. That’s really cool moving forward.”
If McCaffrey and the Huskers have their way, of course, he’ll be only a quarterback going forward. He’s going to play it this fall for Valor Christian. He’ll join Verduzco’s “cubes” when he arrives in Lincoln.
He’s always seen himself as a signal-caller, he’s just picked up some tricks — and made a whole lot of plays — in other parts of the field along the way.