Nebraska freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey has a knack for scrambling around, getting out trouble and flipping the ball to an open receiver like a basketball point guard might.
“My family played a lot of backyard football back in the day,” McCaffrey said Wednesday. It was his first chat with the media since enrolling in January. McCaffrey is the only true freshman, in fact, to talk to the press in spring or summer.
How’d he earn it? A big performance on a position coach Mario Verduzco’s 722-question test helped. And his playmaking skills in camp — which have caught the attention of Verduzco, offensive coordinator Troy Walters and head coach Scott Frost — has done the same. Even as Adrian Martinez is the no-doubt starter of the 2019 team, McCaffrey is competing like he could be.
“We all want to have the job,” McCaffrey said. “But all we can do is make a role and keep expanding that each day."
Compete? McCaffrey’s been competing since forever. That’s life as a McCaffrey, where Dad, Ed, is a former Super Bowl-winning receiver, older brother, Christian, is near the top of every NFL fantasy football list and two other brothers have played college football, too.
Luke’s the youngest one. He was the smallest one for so long, too.
“I’d come to different strategies,” McCaffrey said. “…As I grow up, I get a little bigger. It was always a fun environment.”
Still, in high school, he had to play receiver while older brother Dylan — now a backup quarterback at Michigan — started at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Luke was one of the best in the state, too, averaging 15.3 yards per catch as a sophomore. Luke wasn’t the full-time starting quarterback at Valor until his senior year. He was already committed to Nebraska by then. Martinez had yet to play a game at NU.
McCaffrey could see that Martinez was strong through the 2018 season, so he knew it'd be hard to win the starting job when he arrived on campus.
"My mission is to always compete and try to be the best player I can be personally while uplifting the team around me," McCaffrey said. "That's kind of the mission that doesn't change ... the idea of competition should always be on a quarterback's mind, especially. Every quarterback in this room should want to be the starter. We can do that in an awesome manner."
He's never been asked, not once, to play receiver at Nebraska.
"I'm very thankful for that," McCaffrey said. "The coaching staff stayed true to their word. That's what they told me in the recruiting process, and nothing blinked. I can say that about every single coach, too, which is awesome."
Martinez said McCaffrey is a "bright young kid with lots of talent."
"He's fast and he can throw the ball," Martinez said. "But I think it's going to be a process for him. Making that jump is tough for a lot of people."
McCaffrey said he received advice from Christian, Dylan and Max, the oldest brother who played receiver at Duke.
“The best advice was to attack it, not dip your toe in — Coach (Scott) Frost hones in on that in a lot of our meetings — but it’s just to dive right in,” McCaffrey said. “You see a lot of freshmen doing that right now ... just attacking it, not wondering it’s going to be like, but just embracing it. You’re going to make some mistakes, but to have the overall tenacity and really go enjoy it.”
There’s still a possibility — remote, perhaps — that Luke and Dylan could square off against each other in a Nebraska/Michigan game. Dylan is a redshirt sophomore at Michigan while Luke appears headed for a redshirt season at NU. On Oct. 30, 2021, the Wolverines travel to Lincoln. In theory, both could be starters.
“That’s probably my parents’ nightmare,” Luke said. “But we’ll see. It’d be interesting. I think I’ll worry about that when we get there.”