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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Christian McCaffrey talks Call of Duty, draft, Panthers in interview with LBS

Christian McCaffrey

Christian McCaffrey has Panthers fans hyped. They think he’s the future.

The rookie from Stanford represents a new breed of NFL player — the hybrid athlete who can line up just about anywhere on the field. The league is unquestionably trending in this direction, favoring young players like Green Bay’s Ty Montgomery who can play multiple positions and confuse defenses. It’s essentially the NFL version of the Golden State Warriors’ ahead-of-its-time strategy to play five versatile wings who can switch every screen.

During his historic college career, McCaffrey came to be known for much more than simply being the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey and being a white running back.

In his three years in Palo Alto, McCaffrey amassed 3,922 rushing yards; 99 receptions for 1,206 receiving yards; and 33 total touchdowns. As a sophomore he broke the NCAA’s record for all-purpose yards with 3,864. (The man whose record he broke, Barry Sanders, was his childhood hero.)

McCaffrey decided to stop giving Pac-12 coaches nightmares and declared for the draft after his junior year. Now that he’s a pro (McCaffrey has 87 yards rushing, 51 yards receiving, and one touchdown in three preseason games), he’s lining up endorsement deals.

This interview is brought to you by Activision and its new game, Call of Duty: WWII. This game marks a Call of Duty return to the World Wars for the first time in nearly a decade (Call of Duty: World at War was released in 2008).

Activision hosted a Twitch livestream of McCaffrey playing the beta version of the game in Charlotte Friday, and he chatted with Larry Brown Sports on the phone after the event. We discussed his transition to life in the NFL, his decision to skip the Sun Bowl, the Mayweather-McGregor fight (which was set to take place the next day), Game of Thrones, Drake and much more.

What was the livestream like? What are your early impressions of the game?

Oh my gosh, I absolutely love it. I’ve been playing Call of Duty forever, so it felt good to get back to the World War II days, the boots on the ground, combat gameplay, it definitely was a lot of fun.

You were 7 when the first one came out, so you’ve kind of grown up with the franchise as it’s developed. Athletes obviously take endorsement decisions seriously, especially when you’re a rookie and you’re just creating your brand. So, why did you and your team choose to partner with Call of Duty?

You’re right — a lot of people, they choose wisely on endorsements and who they end up signing with. For me, I’ve always wanted it to be genuine, something that I like and stuff I’m actually into. If I never played Call of Duty before, I wouldn’t want to do something with Call of Duty, but I really love the game, so I thought it’d be cool to do something with them, and got lucky enough to them agreeing to it, so now we’re here. Had an absolute blast (Friday).

This is the second time Sledgehammer Games has led development on a Call of Duty game. The first one was Advanced Warfare, which people really liked. Is there any insight you can give to the video game aficionados about what makes this version cool?

The maps are awesome, the new maps. Depending on what maps you play, there are bunkers, so a lot of people use smoke grenades just to get through the whole maps, and it can get chaotic, but it’s a lot of fun. The turrets are a lot of fun. The turrets are stronger than they’ve ever been in any Call of Duty. And I think the sniping is elite. I think the sniping is a lot better. All in all, it’s an unbelievable game. I cannot wait for the full version to come out.

After being around the NFL for so long, how crazy is it for you that you’re in these shoes now?

It’s a lot of fun. It really is cool, you know what I mean, being an NFL player and having opportunities like this. It reminds me that I’m blessed and when these opportunities come up, I’m extremely thankful that I’m living out my dream.

I know we’re only three weeks into the preseason, but has anything surprised you so far about life in the NFL or the competition?

No, not really. I got lucky going to the Panthers — such a welcoming team. A lot of guys on the team really do a good job in giving you the rundown on what the league is like, and they treat you like family as soon as you step in the building. It’s awesome because they understand you’re a rookie but they also need you and want you to help their team win. I’m thankful for the veterans and the entire organization for accepting all of us rookies. I think we’ll have a great team and hopefully win a lot of football games this year.

Who are some of those veterans that you’ve found yourself getting a lot of advice from and gravitating toward?

The whole running back room is who I spend pretty much all my time with, in meetings and on the field. Guys like Jonathan Stewart, Fozzy Whitaker, Cam Artis-Payne, Jalen Simmons, all those guys. Such solid guys. You can tell it really is like a family, and we feed off of each other’s success and we want each other to do well. They’ve kind of showed me the ropes to start, but you’ve got guys all over the organization who know how to lead, who have been there and done that. Luke Kuechly’s been great. Ryan Kalil’s been great. Greg Olsen’s been great. Cam (Newton)’s awesome. Thomas Davis is great. Shaq (Thompson)’s been there, done that. Kurt Coleman. Kawann Short. Julius Peppers. You go down the list, you’ve got guys who have experienced success. As a rookie coming in, you’re all ears.

Your stock rose quite a bit leading up to the draft. Why do you think it is that as the draft approached, teams got higher on you and your projected position kept going up?

I don’t know really. I think that’d be a question for them, but I was always confident in my abilities, and I think a lot of times it’s hard for people to actually watch the games. You hear about certain guys, but when you play in the Pac-12 a lot of your games are late, 7:30 games. A lot of people on the East Coast are asleep so they know your name but they’ve never really seen you play. That might be one of the reasons, but I’m not really sure 100 percent.

Do you have any regrets or hesitations when you look back on the bowl game and deciding not to play?

Uh, no. I’ll always, I told my team and told my coaches, I’ll always regret not playing in it, but I’ll always understand why I did it. It’s hard for me to not play in the game but I know it was a business decision I had to make and it worked out great.

I know for a guy like you it must have been an extremely difficult decision, and I read that your teammates embraced you and they understood. One report even said they gave you a standing ovation. Were your teammates understanding of that decision?

Yeah, they were great. I had some unbelievable teammates at Stanford, and to this day I keep in touch with them. I absolutely love those guys, I’d go to bat for them, so I can’t express how lucky I was to go to a school where those will be guys that will be my friends for the rest of my life.

OK. Christian, I’m sure you have some goals in mind for your rookie season. Anything you’d be willing to share that you’re hoping to accomplish this year?

I usually keep my goals pretty private, but I do have a lot of them. A lot of new goals hopefully I can reach, but I keep those to myself.

You’re such a workout fiend that your strength coach at Stanford designed a special workout just for you. Take me through how your training is changing now that we’re heading into the season — what’s changing in your lifting and conditioning approach?

I still lift and condition all the time despite being in-season; I think it’s important to continue to gain strength and continue to be conditioned. It’s just that it creeps into recovery. But really, nothing’s changed. I still try to maintain everything. It’s not about putting a lot of weight on the bar or trying to make any gains as much as it is about maintaining everything and being able to stay healthy for the whole season.

And what about your nutrition — as you’ve come into the pros, has anything changed with the way you’re eating?

I’ve always had a pretty strict diet, so nothing’s really changed there. On off days I have to eat in order to have success and put my body in the best position it can be so on Sundays I’m ready to roll.

What’s the last TV show you were obsessed with?

Oh, Game of Thrones right now.

It’s the last season, right?

Yeah, so the last episode comes on Sunday.

What’s your go-to album right now?

Ooh, go-to album. Man, that’s tough. I’d probably say any Drake album. I can always rely on Drake.

Take Care. I always end up going back to Take Care.

Oh man, Take Care is one of the best albums, if not the best album ever, so that’s great.

You’re a big mixed martial arts fan. You excited for Saturday? And what’s your prediction for Mayweather-McGregor?

I train with a lot of UFC guys back in Denver. I’ve been an MMA fan pretty much my whole life, and I’m a huge McGregor fan, have been since day one. So I’m gonna go with him. I know I’ll probably get some heat for it, but I think he’s gonna shock some people.

He’s a warrior. He’s accomplished a lot of things people didn’t think he could.

He is. He’s the definition of a warrior.

The dude who was yelling “Heisman!” behind you after the Rose Bowl victory — did you ever find out who he was or how he got on the field, or was he just some random guy?

You know, I have no idea, but I’ll put that guy in my ring any day. (Laughs) I appreciate his support.

I saw that Pee Wee football game you played against the NFL mascots. That was real, right — with the Sharpie in the sock?

Yeah, that actually happened.

Now that celebrations are allowed again in the NFL, do you have anything planned for this year harkening back to the Sharpie days, or are you going to be more businesslike?

No, I’ll probably keep it simple like I always do, but if something happens, something changes, you guys will know.

Aaron Mansfield is a freelance sports writer. His work has appeared in Complex, USA Today and the New York Times. You can reach him via email at [email protected]

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