Brooks: Family Ties Bind Derek McCartney To Football
BOULDER - After a practice a couple of weeks ago, former Colorado coach Bill McCartney stood before the current crop of Buffaloes and did what he did (and still does) best: Connect, inform, inspire.
For one player on one knee in the Buffaloes huddle, it wasn't quite the same ol', same ol,' but let's just say the message and the fervor with which it was delivered were familiar.
Derek McCartney is Bill McCartney's grandson and former next-door neighbor, living in a house that Bill and his late wife, Lyndi, made available for their daughter, Kristy, and her son, Derek. During his childhood, Derek was a frequent visitor to his grandparents' home, where listening to football tales woven by his grandfather was as normal as watching the sun descend behind the Rockies.
Bill McCartney's influence on his young grandson was considerable.
"My dad (former CU lineman Shannon Clavelle) wasn't around, and living next door to grandpa I'd just go over and hang out with grandma and grandpa and talk to them a couple of hours at a time when I didn't have anything to do in the summer," Derek recalled. "It was great to be able to see them every day; it was a blessing for me."
He added with a smile: "Sometimes I can guess what (Bill McCartney) is going to say because I heard so many stories growing up. But it's always a lot of fun to hear him. He's always super-excited and that's never going to go away. That's just who he is."
Who Derek is and how he evolves as a CU defensive end is yet to be determined. But anyone who has watched him believes his potential is unlimited. He's 6-3, 240 pounds, is instinctive and competitive and, according to his grandfather, "is a dynamo. He's always been long and rangy, but what he has you can't coach - and that's anticipation.
"When you're young you react to things when they happen. As you learn to anticipate, that allows you to get there at the right time. He has that. Now, this is another level and I haven't seen him play here. But watching him in high school, he was intelligent, athletic, competitive . . . I've seen all those things since I can remember."
In the classroom, Derek has moved way past the potentially good stage. He's classified as a redshirt freshman, but he began the fall semester this week with an astounding 76 hours.
How is that possible? Signed in CU's 2012 recruiting class, he "grayshirted," meaning he delayed enrollment until the following January, then redshirted last fall. If he lacks game experience entering Friday night's season-opener against Colorado State (7 p.m., Sports Authority Field at Mile High), he's already a classroom veteran.
"The grayshirt/redshirt route was tough and it's been a long time since I actually played a game, but it's really been beneficial academically," he said. "I was really blessed to have that opportunity . . . it's crazy, weird, but my plan is to be working on a masters in something as a junior and eventually be headed toward med school. There's lots of possibilities and I've got time to think about it."
Of more urgency currently is CSU and getting pressure from the edge on senior quarterback Garrett Grayson, who completed 22 of his 39 passes for 201 yards in last season's 41-27 loss to the Buffs. McCartney is scheduled to make his first college start against the Rams, with sophomore Jimmie Gilbert set to make his second start.
Last season, CU was last in the Pac-12 Conference in quarterback sacks (17) and the player who registered a team high - end Chidera Uzo-Diribe with four - has graduated. DE coach Andy LaRussa, new to his role after coaching the corners in 2013, is hoping McCartney and Gilbert and another quartet of young players - sophomore De'Jon Wilson, redshirt freshman Timothy Coleman and true freshmen Christian Shaver and Michael Mathewes - can compensate for Uzo-Diribe's absence as well as that of junior Tyler Henington (ACL).
LaRussa calls McCartney "extremely coachable and football smart. He's able to get himself in good position and he understands what we're doing on defense, which enables him to play faster. And as he refines his craft, his attention to detail, he's going to be able to overcome mistakes in technique."
Hampered early in August camp with a shoulder injury, McCartney has recovered and believes his progress has been noticeable. In addition to improving his speed and strength in summer conditioning, he said increased focus on details at his position has paid daily dividends: "The whole game is slowing down for me now."
Remaining on his to-do list are improving his footwork and "staying on the edge of the tackle in pass rushing," he said. But those wrinkles, said LaRussa, should be smoothed out due to McCartney's ability to listen and desire to improve.
"Someone has to want to be good if they're going to be a coachable player," LaRussa said. "As a staff, we coach guys hard. He's the kind who likes feedback and wants to be coached."
Those qualities are apparent to McCartney's teammates. Senior defensive tackle and captain Juda Parker, who played McCartney's position for three seasons before moving inside, said McCartney gets high marks for preparation and effort.
"He's done an awesome job; I'm excited to see how he does and I've got all the faith in the world in him," said Parker, adding that if McCartney lines up on his side of the defense he will assist him in communication with the defense and lining up correctly. "Having all that on your plate and not having played can be tough at times."
Derek didn't grow up following or hoping to emulate any specific college or NFL player. He didn't need to; he had a coaching legend next door and the stream of football-minded visitors ran deep. "My brother (T.C. McCartney), grandfather, uncles . . . they would be sitting there talking football. Yeah, I've learned a lot from my family."
For a kid with a budding fondness for football, it wasn't a bad family to be born into.