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CU Buffs’ Derek McCartney channeling grandfather’s timeless wisdom

  • Colorado linebaker Derek McCartney has five sacks and 16 quarterback...

    Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado linebaker Derek McCartney has five sacks and 16 quarterback hurries last season.

  • Colorado linebacker Derek McCartney runs through drills during practice on...

    Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado linebacker Derek McCartney runs through drills during practice on Friday.



Seemingly anyone who has been even remotely involved with the University of Colorado football program over the past 30 years can relate at least one Bill McCartney story.

As the grandson of the legendary coach, Derek McCartney obviously is no exception.

Now a junior outside linebacker poised to build on a breakout 2015 season, the younger McCartney always harkens back to two specific bits of advice when he considers his grandfather’s influence on his still-blossoming athletic career. Perhaps not surprisingly, the wisdom in question centers around mantras of hard work and leadership.

“When I was growing up, he always said big guys have to work harder,” said the 6-foot-3, 250-pound linebacker. “He said, ‘You’ll never meet a small guy that doesn’t want to be big.’ When you’re big you have to pay the price. He said it’s easier for little guys running around. Big guys just have to work harder.

“The second thing, and recently he says this all the time and I find it to be more and more true as I keep living life, he says everything rises and falls on leadership. Every church, every home, every business, he says that all the time. He tries to encourage me with that, which is really cool.”

The revelation last week that coach McCartney, the beloved leader of the 1990 national champion Buffaloes, is suffering from late-onset dementia/Alzheimer’s sent shockwaves through the program in addition to the Buffs’ vast fan base. Naturally, no player felt it more personally than Derek McCartney.

The Buffs’ outside linebacker professed he carries no extra determination for the 2016 season despite the cruel nature of his grandfather’s affliction. While it is likely coach McCartney will see be around to watch his grandson’s senior season a year from now, it is logical to fret if it will be the same coach Mac who visits Folsom Field by then.

“My grandpa has always just been very encouraging,” Derek McCartney said. “He’s always tells me things that I should strive for. That’s just the coolest thing — my grandpa is always there regardless of how he’s doing, and honestly he’s doing great. He’s still the same old Bill McCartney. He just motivates me with everything he says to me even still.”

Derek McCartney was a solid contributor as a redshirt freshman two seasons ago but developed into a dependable defensive force last year, finishing with 70 tackles and recording a 33-yard interception return that set up CU’s first touchdown of the season at Hawaii and perhaps served notice the Buffs would be an improved bunch defensively.

McCartney also tallied five sacks and led the Buffs with 16 quarterback hurries. While he again expects to play a pivotal role on a defense that turned into a team strength last year, McCartney, perhaps channeling some of his grandfather’s drive, is the first to admit there remains much work to be done.

“We did get a lot better last year statistically, but the thing is we didn’t finish highly ranked as a defense,” Derek McCartney said. “We’re not at all where we want to be. But we know we’re headed in the right direction, and we know we have a lot of potential to be really good.”

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