Three-time Su­per Bowl win­ning WR doesn’t claim to be an ex­pert at coach­ing

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Daniel Kramer

RANCH» Perched atop HIGH­LANDS

Valor Sta­dium sits the head foot­ball coach’s of­fice, en­trenched be­tween ac­cess to the grand­stands. It’s a quirky lo­ca­tion where play­ers and staff me­an­der through­out the day. But to firstyear Valor coach Ed McCaf­frey, the traf­fic flow is re­flec­tive of the rea­son he spends so much there. He wants to be avail­able. McCaf­frey, the three-time Su­per Bowl-win­ning wide re­ceiver, is about to em­bark on the Col­orado 5A play­offs at the tra­di­tion-rich pow­er­house. Within the con­fines of his cramped new quar­ters, the self-pro­fessed “foot­ball junkie” scouted Valor’s prospec­tive op­po­nents dur­ing the Ea­gles’ first-round bye, which was earned by be­ing the 24-team tour­na­ment’s No. 1 seed.

The Ea­gles take on No. 16 Regis Je­suit at home Fri­day in the sec­ond round.

“I’m learn­ing,” McCaf­frey said. “I’m by no means an ex­pert at coach­ing high school foot­ball. I’m do­ing the best I can in Year 1. But I’ve al­ready learned a lot of lessons and I imag­ine I’ll keep learn­ing them.”

The McCaf­frey name is as syn­ony­mous in Den­ver sports as any, so when he ac­cepted the job in Fe­bru­ary with no coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­yond lit­tle league and his an­nual sum­mer camp, out­siders might have ques­tioned the move. Valor, af­ter all, had won three large school state ti­tles dur­ing the five-year ten­ure of Rod Sher­man, who re­signed in De­cem­ber and is now coach­ing at Ara­pa­hoe.

McCaf­frey doesn’t re­flect on the pro­gram’s past. In­stead, he re­it­er­ates that his role is to help mold the young


“He def­i­nitely leads by ex­am­ple,” se­nior line­backer and tight end Ethan Zemla said. “He’s very dili­gent. He’s al­ways want­ing to get bet­ter and that re­flects on how our team has been.”

In many ways, McCaf­frey might have more ap­pli­ca­ble ex­pe­ri­ence than what’s as­sumed. With his wife, Lisa, the McCaf­freys raised four stand­outs in the Valor pro­gram, in­clud­ing its cur­rent quar­ter­back, Luke, who is com­mit­ted to Ne­braska. Their old­est son, Max, was a star re­ceiver who went on to star at Duke and get a cup of cof­fee in the NFL. Then came Chris­tian, who set the state record for all-pur­pose yards and touch­downs, and is now the start­ing run­ning back for the Carolina Pan­thers. And Dy­lan, who grad­u­ated in 2017, is the wait­ing-in-thew­ings quar­ter­back for the No. 4 Michi­gan Wolver­ines.

McCaf­frey watches ev­ery snap of his sons’ ev­ery game, and typ­i­cally spends ev­ery week­end in the fall at­tend­ing at least one game, from Char­lotte to Ann Ar­bor. Fa­ther­hood, he said, was per­haps the best prepa­ra­tion for the Valor job.

“Fa­thers, for the first time, we have no clue what we’re do­ing. I had no idea when I be­came a fa­ther,” McCaf­frey said. “But I think it helps me to un­der­stand hav­ing a se­nior here at Valor and hav­ing three other broth­ers of his who went through the school, un­der­stand­ing the chal­lenges and pres­sures of a teenage man who’s gone from be­com­ing a boy to an adult.”

Dur­ing his days in the KOA ra­dio booth call­ing Bron­cos games with Dave Lo­gan, the dec­o­rated head coach at Cherry Creek, McCaf­frey ex­pressed his am­bi­tion to even­tu­ally find a call­ing in coach­ing. Lo­gan was one of the first peo­ple McCaf­frey con­sulted af­ter he took the Valor job.

“I know his kids have al­ways been im­por­tant be­cause he and Lisa have done a great job in rais­ing four of them,” Lo­gan said. “Just the con­ver­sa­tions he and I would have about foot­ball and kids and how much he en­joyed coach­ing, it didn’t sur­prise me re­ally when he threw his hat in the ring and de­cided to give it a go.”

McCaf­frey is quick to point out that Valor’s suc­cess has been built on the coach­a­bil­ity of his play­ers. And to ex­ploit their acu­men, he as­sem­bled a staff with a wide va­ri­ety of back­grounds and ex­pe­ri­ence. Valor’s 14 var­sity coaches carry a com­bined 91 years of NFL ex­pe­ri­ence, with mem­bers from 10 dif­fer­ent Su­per Bowl-win­ning teams. Bran­don Stok­ley (wide re­ceivers), Jimmy Spencer (sec­ondary) and Tyler Polum­bus and Ben Hamil­ton (of­fen­sive line) each played for the Bron­cos.

Three coaches — Travis Kirschke (de­fen­sive line), Scott Zim­mer­man (lineback­ers) and John How­ell (spe­cial teams and safeties), all of whom also played in the NFL — are car­ry­overs from Sher­man’s regime.

“We have NFL coaches that an­a­lyze (op­po­nent) film, so they know all the tweaks of ev­ery­thing and know what they run and how they run it,” said ju­nior line­man Roger Rosen­garten. “I think that in the film room, schemat­i­cally, I think (we) out-class ev­ery op­po­nent, which is good on our side, but we still have to be care­ful for all their skills and as­sets that they have on their team.”

Valor, de­spite its 10-0 record, has had its grow­ing pains. The de­fense un­der­went an over­haul to a “man-press” con­cepts to bet­ter thwart op­pos­ing pass­ing at­tacks. There have been close games, such as a Week 3 slugfest against de­fend­ing 5A cham­pion Pomona, which built a 6-0 lead be­fore bow­ing late, and the reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nale against High­lands Ranch, when the Ea­gles over­came a half­time deficit to win 25-15.

“Ev­ery team, they don’t like us,” Zemla said. “But it comes with be­ing the best in the state. It’s def­i­nitely great to get the best chal­lenge from ev­ery team.”

And who knows what the play­offs rounds might bring. Valor was un­de­feated and the top seed at this time last year but was shocked in the quar­ter­fi­nals by No. 8 Grand­view, mark­ing its ear­li­est play­off exit since 2008.

With a pass­ing game or­ches­trated by the el­dest McCaf­frey, com­ple­mented by a ground at­tack con­sist­ing of Joshia Davis, Zain Zini­cola and fresh­man Gavin Sawchuk, the Ea­gles might have 5A’s most bal­anced at­tack. But for McCaf­frey, while win­ning Valor’s eighth 5A ti­tle would be in­cred­i­bly ful­fill­ing, it’s not why he took the job.

So why now? Why, with the travel to watch his boys, his Sirius XM Ra­dio show, his an­nual foot­ball camp, and with the need to re­lin­quish his role as a color an­a­lyst for KOA Ra­dio to have enough time for the Valor job, did McCaf­frey want to tackle some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent?

“I wanted to do some­thing that gave my life mean­ing and pur­pose,” McCaf­frey said. “Some­thing that al­lowed me to ex­pe­ri­ence a sense of ful­fill­ment. And I love do­ing my ra­dio show and I love some of the other in­ter­ests that I have. But I re­ally feel like the big­gest con­tri­bu­tion I can make is in the lives of the men in this Valor foot­ball pro­gram.

“Not just about the stuff on the field, but en­cour­ag­ing them to do well in the class­room and en­cour­ag­ing them to be good peo­ple and carry them­selves with a sense of re­spect and dig­nity. That’s what I hope to do.”

Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

First-year Valor Chris­tian coach Ed McCaf­frey works with the of­fen­sive line dur­ing prac­tice last week in High­lands Ranch.

Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

First-year Valor Chris­tian coach Ed McCaf­frey runs prac­tice last week at Valor Chris­tian High School.

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