Sophomore Christian McCaffrey finished second in the 2015 Heisman Trophy race, as Alabama running back Derrick Henry was announced as the award’s winner on Saturday night. McCaffrey is Stanford’s fourth Heisman runner-up over the last seven years.
Henry finished with 1,832 total points in the final balloting, McCaffrey finished with 1,539 total points and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson finished with 1,165. McCaffrey finished first in the balloting for the Far West region, second in the Northeast, South, Southwest and Midwest, and third in the Mid-Atlantic.
This year’s balloting was the closest since 2009, when Alabama’s Mark Ingram won by 28 points over Stanford’s Toby Gerhart.
McCaffrey’s claim to fame in 2015, behind a dominant season as a running back, receiver and kick returner for the Cardinal, was breaking Barry Sanders’ all-time record from 1988 in all-purpose yards in a single season with 3,496. The sophomore’s 1,847 rushing yards and 1,042 kickoff return yards were good for second in the nation, and his 540 receiving yards was also second-highest for running backs.
Overall, he led the nation in all-purpose yards by over 1,000, and his 2,387 yards from scrimmage topped the nation and were 300 yards greater than the next-best player, who happened to be Henry.
McCaffrey grew up in Colorado with a family full of former student-athletes, including aunts and uncles, his brother and his parents. His mother, Lisa McCaffrey, played soccer at Stanford from 1987 to 1990, and his father, Ed McCaffrey, played football at Stanford from 1986-1991, and then spent a majority of his 13-season professional career with the Broncos as a teammate of Cardinal legend, John Elway.
Christian cites his family as playing a large role in his success from early on, from playing football in his backyard with his two brothers – one of which currently plays receiver at Duke – to the advice imparted on him by his parents as former student-athletes. Among the lessons he learned from his father was to do everything at 100 percent.
“God has given me so many talents, and it’d be a sin if I don’t use them to the best of my abilities,” Christian said.
After his freshman season on The Farm in which he received limited touches on offense due to the Cardinal’s depth at running back, McCaffrey entered the offseason with a renewed vigor. Shaw challenged him to get stronger and become a better pass protector in order to get more playing time. McCaffrey weighed in four pounds heavier in the 2015 season than he did in 2014.
“Anyone who wants to be really, really good at what they do includes a lot of work,” McCaffrey said. “During the offseason, I really wanted to be the guy, I wanted to get the ball, so I knew it was going to take a lot of work in the weight room, on the field, and just trying to create those habits for myself to carry on into the season.”
McCaffrey was involved in every facet of the Stanford offense in 2015, as a running back and receiver, and even as a passer in the Wildcat: He threw two touchdown passes over the course of the season. He made his mark on special teams as a kick and punt returner, amassing 1,109 total return yards. He even jumped in as a cornerback on the scout team during one practice and “looked like a natural,” Shaw said.
“I would label myself as a football player,” McCaffrey said. “You can label me anything really, and I don’t really listen a whole lot to all that stuff. I just try to go out and do what the coaches tell me and do it to the best of my ability and try to make plays.”
Having such a versatile option on offense has changed Stanford’s game over the last season. Shaw said, “It’s like, ‘Wow, that’s what we’ve been missing.’”
Shaw knew Christian McCaffrey was on the verge of something special after about four games, he said, and soon, the rest of the country would know as well.
His first breakout performance came on Oct. 15 against UCLA. In just three quarters – a Stanford blowout victory prevented him from coming out in the fourth – McCaffrey rushed for 243 yards on 25 carries, breaking a record previously held by fellow Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart. He finished with 369 all-purpose yards on the night, first establishing his stake in the Heisman race.
In the 118th Big Game against Cal, McCaffrey continued to break records. He scored two touchdowns in a four-minute span – one on a 49-yard catch-and-run in which he broke tackle after tackle, and the next on a 98-yard kickoff return. He tallied 389 all-purpose yards in the game, breaking the single-game school record previously held by Glyn Millburn. He passed Reggie Bush, Marcus Allen, and Mike Rozier – all Heisman Trophy winners – on the single-season all-purpose yard leaderboard during the game.
But McCaffrey saved the best for last, for the Pac-12 Championship Game, with a Rose Bowl berth at stake and with the eyes of a nation watching his every move. In that game, he gained 461 all-purpose yards, the fifth-most in a single game in college football history, in the process, breaking Barry Sanders’ 27-year-old record. He rushed for 207 yards, caught 4 passes for 105 yards and gained 149 total return yards. McCaffrey scored a rushing, passing and receiving touchdown in the game.
Throughout all of the Heisman hype and one of the best seasons in Stanford and college football history, McCaffrey has maintained his humility – he didn’t think he had a chance at being a finalist until “when they announced my name a couple days ago,” he said. McCaffrey has consistently directed much of his praise to his offensive line and other teammates.
McCaffrey and the rest of Stanford football puts a bow on their season on New Year’s Day in the 102nd Rose Bowl Game against Iowa.
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Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.