Chiefs take field with young mentor

Monday, July 31, 2017

ALMA -- For Alex McClafferty, Nov. 25, 2011, may have been "the single greatest day of my life."

That's was when McClafferty, a rangy 6-foot-3 junior quarterback, celebrated Blue Springs South's 40-37 win over Christian Brothers of St. Louis in the MSHSAA Class 6 Show-Me Bowl. He witnessed it all from the sidelines.

Despite a strong arm and high football IQ, there's not much demand for slow-footed spread-option quarterbacks on the top rungs of Missouri football. So McClafferty watched the Jaguars succeed behind Connor Harris, now trying to make the New York Jets as an undrafted linebacker after setting the NCAA career record in tackles at Division II Lindenwood, and spent his senior season as a backup to Fort Hays State (Kan.) recruit Dalton Brewer.

What he got from "The Legend" -- three-time state championship head coach Greg Oder -- and his staff wasn't playing time, but a lesson that sports "wasn't just about winning."

"They took someone like me, who sat behind studs ... I did, sat behind studs ... and they took interest in me," McClafferty explained. "They didn't just see the 11 on the field, they saw everybody on the team. It made you feel loved, made you feel welcome."

Love for the game grew early for McClafferty, 22, the son of veteran coach Mike McClafferty, who recently retired from his long career with the close of Wentworth Military Academy. Instead of pursuing his passion on the field after high school, he stayed on the sidelines -- serving two years as a student at the University of Central Missouri as an assistant for Knob Noster head coach Richard Villigran before getting the Santa Fe job in the spring to begin "living the dream."

"I love the sport of football, and not just the X's and O's," McClafferty said. "I love the life skills it teaches.

"You're in high school this much of your life," he noted, showing a sliver between his thumb and index finger. "You're a man, a husband, a father for the rest of your life. I teach those sort of skills to get kids geared for it: the hard work, the teamwork, the respect, the responsibility."

McClafferty understands that "football is a choice."

"Everybody's got to come to school ... do their homework ... take their tests," he said. "When the kids come out and give me two-and-a-half, three hours of their time after school ... that's a choice I recognize and I let them know how much I appreciate it and how much it betters them in the future to take on this responsibility to learn and grow as a person."

The Chiefs are likely to have a very different look as they've had in past years. Although he sees senior Devin Breland as a nice fit as a spread QB, McClafferty isn't tied to any particular system.

"My preference changes every year with the kids that I get on my team," he said. "You can run whatever you want to run, but if you don't have the personnel for it, it just doesn't work."

McClafferty was pleasantly surprised with the talent he found at Santa Fe during his first team camp in May, when much of the playbook was installed. The Chiefs are coming off a 5-5 campaign during the one season under Travis Zahl, who will continue to assist from the booth -- joining holdover Brandon Struchtemeyer and new arrival Jacob Moreland, who played for McClafferty at Knob Noster.

The program he commands has a rich history. Santa Fe reached consecutive Class 1 quarterfinals during a 10-year stretch ending in 2004 and made it to the finals three times, including the undefeated 2000 season. That tradition may be too distant to draw upon for McClafferty.

"Looking out there in the gym, you can see the history," he acknowledged. "I wasn't here for that tradition, so I can't really tap into it.

"What I do is tap into the kids," McClafferty offered. "This is your legacy, this is a new tradition, a new program. How do you want to be remembered? What is the mark you want to leave?

"Start your own tradition, start this year" is his challenge to a group which lost only one senior from a year ago. "What is your legacy going to be when you leave?"

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