Christian McCaffrey walked into the New York Marriott Marquis’ Broadway Lounge on Friday in his Stanford warmups to meet the assembled Heisman media. On the back of his sweater, the phrase “Intellectual Brutality” was emblazoned in white.
“That’s kind of Stanford’s motto,” McCaffrey said with a laugh. “Our football team, we like the concept of being smart people as well as physical, tough football players.”
The phrase certainly fits McCaffrey well.
The sophomore tailback showed off his do-it-all capabilities this season, excelling as a tough Swiss-army-knife type of player for Stanford en route to a record-breaking sophomore season and a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist.
McCaffrey totaled 3,496 all-purpose yards, breaking Barry Sanders’ national record of 3,250 yards and becoming only the third player in college football history to surpass 3,000 all-purpose yards.
“I had his pictures on my wall when I was a kid, I used to watch his YouTube highlights all the time,” McCaffrey said of Barry Sanders, whose son Barry Jr. is a fellow Cardinal running back. “It does mean a lot [to break the record], it’s a huge honor, but I think [Clemson coach Dabo Swinney] said this in Atlanta the other day, that any individual statistic is a team effort. I’m just lucky to be around a bunch of guys who make my job easy.”
McCaffrey set the record with an incredible effort in the Pac-12 title game. He amassed 461 yards — 207 rushing, 105 receiving and 149 return — and three touchdowns (one passing, one rushing, one receiving) in a win over USC. That versatility makes him stand out differently than other running backs such as fellow Heisman finalist Derrick Henry.
“He can beat you with speed and quickness as well as power football,” McCaffrey said. “But I think I catch more balls out of the backfield, do a little bit stuff from the slot, some outside run plays, kick returns, punt returns.”
That sort of versatile playing style is common in McCaffrey’s family. His father, Ed, played for the Giants, 49ers and Broncos in the NFL, and his brother Max plays wide receiver at Duke.
“I was just fortunate enough to have so many people in my family who have gone through as college athletes,” Christian McCaffrey said of his family’s football lineage. “My parents just told me to work extremely hard, because that’s really how you achieve anything.”
That, and being smart and tough.