Christian McCaffrey touches the football a lot—as in 59.9 percent of Stanford’s total offensive touches. Through three games of the 2016 season, McCaffrey has carried the ball 91 times, caught 17 passes and returned two punts and eight kickoffs. That’s an average of 39 touches a game, which qualifies as the highest workload of any player in all of college football, and way up from last year’s historic performance when he broke Barry Sanders’ record for all-purpose yards in a single season.
One look at McCaffrey’s build, and you’d be within your rights to dismiss any concerns about overwork. McCaffrey looks like he was chiseled from stone, a 6-foot, 200-pound tank that absorbs contact like a pair of Nike Shox. This would be foolish. Even the most perfect human body is prone to breakdowns, especially when it’s involved in a game where it’s being hit by other large men every time you touch the ball (which, if you missed the first paragraph, is a lot). And McCaffrey’s coaches are starting to take notice.
“He can’t take every single rep and be able to survive a 13-, 14-game season,” head coach David Shaw told ESPN. “He can’t. Even at that age, in the best shape of [his] life, and a phenomenal athlete, probably one of the best-conditioned athletes in the nation. Somebody else has to take some reps.”
Despite Shaw’s words, Stanford hasn’t done much to limit their prized running back’s touches, as noted above. It’s hard to take a Hesiman candidate off the field, especially when he’s such a huge part of what you do offensively.
While Stanford’s coaching staff attempts to figure out a way to give their star a few plays off, McCaffrey has taken a deeper interest in body maintenance.
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McCaffrey has immersed himself in pre-game prep and post-game recovery techniques that he didn’t participate in last season. According to ESPN, McCaffrey spends “three to four” hours before and after the game working on his body, doing everything from Pilates to using a foam roller to spending time in the hot and cold tubs.
Adding recovery techniques to his already impressive abilities in the gym, where he worked to get his body fat percentage down to 4 and dominates workouts so thoroughly that his trainer has to make new ones just for him (“We’ve never had anyone like him,” said Stanford strength and conditioning coach Shannon Turley), and you’re left with stories of McCaffrey’s physical ability that sound like urban myths.
Over the off-season, Stanford’s football team participates in something called the Gator Run, where players take turns pushing a utility vehicle loaded with 600 pounds of equipment and a couple of coaches in the front seat all over campus. We’ll let offensive lineman Graham Shuler take it from here:
“It’s really, really tough. You rotate guys pushing it. A lineman will push anywhere from three to 10 times. A tight end will push it maybe 15 times. A running back pushes it somewhere between 10 to 20 times. It’s really rare for anyone to push it over 20 times. When we did it this summer, Christian pushed it 43 times. He took 43 turns. No one told him to do that; it wasn’t the expectation. But when guys were getting tired, Christian was always right there, in the front, waiting. I hope you can imagine the chaos of 60 guys chasing a small vehicle around campus. That’s Christian in a nutshell.”
So, yeah, if anyone can handle the physical toll that comes with touching the football 39 times a game, it’s McCaffrey. For his sake, and his NFL shelf life, though, let’s hope Shaw and company figure out a way to have the man who does everything do just a little bit less.