HIGHLANDS RANCH — Perched atop 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 first-year 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 players.
“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-the-wings 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.”
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