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SHERIDAN — Our favorite athletes aren’t much for words.
Loquacious descriptive statements — or even words like loquacious — don’t really fit guys like Connor McCafferty.
He is workman-like.
Mostly his play succinctly speaks for itself.
The Big Horn senior student-athlete quietly went about his business on the football field, baseball diamond and basketball court in 2013, taking with him a nice piece of hardware in the form of a Rams 2A state championship this November.
McCafferty sat down with the Press Thursday, one day after Christmas and in the middle of perhaps his longest stretch not having to attend some type of practice in which he’s tossing around a ball. Kids like him spend their winters in a muggy gym for the five-month basketball season that comes before summer baseball and on the heels of the physically-demanding fall football. But as is the case with most multi-sport athletes, the grind is hardly a nuisance.
“It’s kind of nice,” he said in regard to if he needed the break, “but I just like playing sports.”
For good reason.
It makes sense for McCafferty be on a field of play as much as he is. His presence has to be more of a stress reliever than anything else for coaches and teammates.
“I think the main thing that makes him so good is his desire to be good,” McCafferty’s football coach Michael McGuire said.
“He works really hard in everything he does — practice, the weight room, school. His preparation on a daily basis; he prepares as well as anyone I’ve been around.”
McCafferty was a big help in McGuire’s transition to the helm of Big Horn football. With him posting indescribably good numbers throughout junior and senior seasons under center, McGuire’s 4A-like systems took hold.
McCafferty threw just two interceptions this year. Meanwhile he tossed a ludicrous 32 touchdowns and ran in nine more in what might only be aptly characterized as video game stats.
“I don’t ever remember a time in the state that somebody put up the numbers he had, especially in back-to-back years,” McGuire, a Wyoming-native, said. “I don’t know if his touchdown to turnover ratio will ever be beat. It just says a lot about his preparation and his decision making.”
McCafferty points back to teammates and coaches when explaining his consistency.
“Probably having our coaches prepare not just me but the whole team,” he said, “having a gameplan and knowing what they’re going to against defenses was really important.”
Those astounding statistics paved the way to the crowning moment in November. Their parade day featured a win over Mountain View, 57-22, in Laramie, securing Big Horn’s first rings in nearly a decade.
The fact that the Rams came up just short in a 9-1 year that ended with a one-point semifinal loss in McCafferty’s junior year was the best part, he said.
“It’s really hard to get back there,” he said. “So that really felt like it was that much better.”
Not always as frequent as football players are true baseball players in Sheridan. And as natural as McCafferty looks on the gridiron, he does on the diamond.
While his football accolades shine in a football town, baseball is where his true love lies. He’s following his favorite sport and his dream of playing next-level baseball to Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colo., after he plays one more season with the Troopers.
“That’s always what I wanted to do. I really love baseball,” he said.
Last year the Troop won a team-record nearly 50 games. Moving up a division in 2013 meant growing pains with a lack of pitching depth, and McCafferty captained a rebuilding campaign.
“It was a lot harder (this year) plus we went up a division, having all the older guys and being a younger guy, then all of a sudden being an older guy is kind of hard,” he explained, saying that hopefully they’ll get back on top this summer but that they lost a lot of guys again.
Baseball season comes with maintaining the demands of offseason football workouts. Football camps and baseball practice can clash in Sheridan summers.
“Sometimes it’s kind of stressful but it doesn’t really bother me too much because whatever sport I’m doing I just try and have fun with it,” McCafferty said.
A no-stress attitude on and off the field, approaching his extra-curriculars the right way are things he may have learned from his father.
A former Creighton University baseball player, Mike McCafferty has been a voice for the sport’s growth in the community, pushing facilities that will allow year-round development. But there was never too much pressure from his dad.
“He tells us ‘If you want to play catch or go hit, you can go, just go and do it,’” Connor McCafferty recounted. “We’d go with him and stuff, but he never stressed us out or anything.”
Rest easy Big Horn fans, there are more McCaffertys on their way up. Little brothers Nolan and Quinn roam the sidelines during Rams games.
In his first varsity game this year, freshman Nolan ran for 100 yards and a score before sitting out for the year with an injury.
So eager is Quinn to get on the field where his brothers play, refs have to shoo him and his ragtag bunch out of the end zone after halftimes of Rams games where they’re seen scrambling for a nerf football Hail Marys. He’s right over the third baseline fence taking swings at whiffle balls while his brother plays shortstop.
“I feel like Nolan and Quinn are really smart too,” McCafferty says. “Whatever they end up doing they’ll be fine.”
“You can’t play baseball forever, you’re going to have to do something else eventually,” he added.
Skepticism in the discussion between the high school kids playing in the shadow of the state leader in football trophies like the 4A Sheridan Broncs has long existed in Sheridan County.
“The 4A guys are kind of like, ‘Oh whatever, it’s 2A,’” McCafferty said. “It’s just different because it is small, but I don’t think it really matters too much.”
McGuire wasn’t shy about speaking up for his quarterback when the Gatorade Player of the Year award went to the 4A title-winning QB Cheyenne East junior Tevis Bartlett.
He pointed out that the award has been given to a 4A player every year since 1998.
“It would have been really cool to win it, but it’s not really a very big deal to me,” McCafferty shrugged, humbly.
“I felt like he did everything he could to be the player of the year in the state,” McGuire explained. “Thirty-two passing touchdowns and a 10-1 record. He was a big part of leading us after we had the one loss, getting us back on track. I felt like he deserved it, but the young man who did win it was a great football player too. We were just really proud of what he (McCafferty) accomplished. Even being a candidate is quite an honor.”
The coach’s plea isn’t an unfair one, and his player passes the eye-test with flying colors.
His body of work came in the 2A class, but anyone who saw McCafferty pull down a designed pass and gash a defense for a 50-yard run, then toss a gem of an 80-yard fly-route before perfectly executing a read-option play to build a 21-point lead in a span of less than five minutes knows there was something special about the way he played football.
Beyond all that, if anything, his selfless leadership was what defined him most.
Whether it’s on the field or off he’s a soft-spoken, humble kid. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a leader.
“His teammates and the people around him feed off him and his energy,” McGuire said.
“I think the best example of what kind of kid he is, is that he’s a great leader that leads by example,” McGuire added.
“He doesn’t always say a lot but when he does, people listen.”
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