Panthers rookie running back Christian McCaffrey discusses his transition to the NFL, his family influences and his love for gaming and Call of Duty.
Football has been a big part of the McCaffrey family for years and years, and they already had one member of the four McCaffrey brothers in the NFL before the 2017 season started. However, the NFL is a whole new world for Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, and the rookie is living out his dream of playing football at its highest level.
McCaffrey, the second-oldest of the four McCaffrey siblings, has heard stories from his older brother Max, a wide receiver in his second stint with the Green Bay Packers practice squad. He’s also surely heard from his dad, Ed, who was notably successful at Stanford and in the NFL, with three Super Bowl wins to his name.
One name, however, who McCaffrey was quick to bring up when talking about his family was his mother, Lisa. The daughter of Olympic sprinter Dave Sime, Lisa McCaffrey met Ed when they were both attending Stanford, and the two managed to have four football players for sons, all pursuing potential NFL careers like their father did.
“My dad’s been great as far as teaching me a lot of different things about football and just kind of watching over me from a distance,” McCaffrey said. “My mom’s been great too — she knows ball but just kind of being there for support. She’s kind of the rock of our family.”
Now, McCaffrey’s trying to make a name for himself on his new journey in the Panthers backfield after his own successful tenure at Stanford.
“As a kid, you dream of playing on Sundays,” McCaffrey said. “Now that it’s finally here, it’s kind of a good deal where there’s not a higher level than this, so I really get to enjoy it and try and do as best as I can.”
McCaffrey achieved a ton in his three years at Stanford, setting a record for all-purpose yards — previously held by Barry Sanders — when he reached 3,864 yards in 2015. After such a successful college career, McCaffrey now has to learn how to translate his game to the NFL style, and he said he isn’t worried about the transition.
“It’s been great,” McCaffrey said. “It doesn’t really matter what level you’re at, football will always be 11 guys on 11 guys. I’m lucky enough to have gone to a really good team that has done a great job of taking the rookies up, so I’ve had a lot of fun.”
McCaffrey’s NFL career may not have started exactly as expected, with 117 rushing yards on 49 attempts and 378 receiving yards on 49 catches in his first eight games of his rookie season. The running back has a lot of eyes staring at him, and reportedly had an entire package of plays designed specifically for him in the Panthers offense.
Even McCaffrey has high expectations of himself, and he admitted that one of the struggles he’s hoping to improve upon is to avoid forcing things when the ball is in his hands.
“Just letting the game come to me and not pressing,” McCaffrey revealed. “Really just kind of doing what I can with what I have, and staying honest with myself. That’s probably the biggest challenge, but I’m having a lot of fun, which is good.”
McCaffrey definitely has the tools on the practice field to transition his style quickly, with the Panthers boasting one of the best linebacker groups the NFL has to offer.
“The guys on my team — you’ve got guys like Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson. Those are three of the best linebackers I think in the league,” McCaffrey praised. “Being able to go up against them every day and compete is pretty fun.”
However, one of the more unique players that McCaffrey gets to stand next to in the backfield is Cam Newton. The confident Panthers quarterback was named the league’s MVP in the same season when McCaffrey was making waves at Stanford in 2015, and McCaffrey mentioned how having him around is a unique experience.
“[Newton]’s a great leader and he does a great job with his energy,” McCaffrey said. “Everybody kind of flocks to him for the energy. He’s the same person all the time and he’s really just a good guy. For me, as a rookie, to have him as a quarterback is pretty special.”
McCaffrey has a ton of tools around him to use when it comes to gaining more knowledge about the NFL level, but one thing that sticks around, even when he’s with his Panthers teammates, is his family.
With his brother Max in the NFL already, a younger brother named Dylan currently a quarterback at Michigan, and his youngest brother Luke playing under center at Valor Christian High School in Colorado, there’s plenty of football talk going around the McCaffrey family.
“A lot of football conversations, but we’re unbelievably close,” McCaffrey said. “Those are my brothers and probably my best friends in the whole world. Any time we can all get home together is a special time. We’re obviously keeping in touch, making jokes. They’re a bunch of good guys so we have a lot of fun.”
One thing McCaffrey mentioned as a way for him and his brothers to connect was gaming, and specifically playing Call of Duty. McCaffrey hasn’t hidden his passion for the first-person shooter video game, even participating in the beta for the new game, Call of Duty: WWII, in the summer before the game even released. It seems incredibly fitting, with “brotherhood” as one of the main themes being focused on in the new installment in the series, which released on Nov. 3.
“I’ve always played with my brothers growing up, so I play with them all the time,” McCaffrey admitted. “We talk pretty much every day, so being able to play with them is really fun.”
McCaffrey’s Call of Duty love carries over while he’s with his Panthers teammates, and he didn’t hesitate too much when asked who would be on his dream squad if he needed a win in a big Call of Duty game. With Devin Funchess and Curtis Samuel by his side, McCaffrey’s team is likely solid. However, the Panthers running back did want one more addition to his team to add a potential morale boost.
“I’d probably have a designated guy on the mic to trash talk, and that’d probably be Greg Olsen,” McCaffrey said. “It’d probably be Greg Olsen or Captain Munnerlyn, one of those two guys. I think [Olsen] is the best character to play with as far as just letting him talk and kind of listen.”
It’s fitting that a player such as McCaffrey would be so invested in a game like Call of Duty, where teamwork, competition and brotherhood are all key elements. With all of those qualities so vital to success, we can only imagine that McCaffrey is probably a pretty good Call of Duty player.