Federal Way’s Chico McClatcher: Where will highlight-reel moves take him next?
Chico McClatcher of Federal Way has always had the speed and moves to leave opponents grasping and recruiters gasping. As his high-school career winds down, here’s a look at where he has been and where he might go next.
Seattle Times staff reporter
FEDERAL WAY – Push “play,” and the highlight video unpeels.
“Superstar,” the music whispers as No. 5 whisks up and down the football field, a blend of jukes and juice.
Then Robert Chico McClatcher IV turns up the throttle with “Best Kept Secret” resonating in the background.
But this secret got out early, the night McClatcher became the first freshman to start for Federal Way coach John Meagher and exploded for 172 rushing yards, including a 66-yard touchdown. The yards (7,553 all-purpose) and touchdowns (77) multiplied from there, and the quiet teenager quickly turned into a coveted college prospect.
“When he gets in to the open field, forget it. He’s too explosive to catch,” said Brandon Huffman, national recruiting coordinator for Scout.com who has McClatcher ranked among the top 50 as a slot receiver. “He’s got good top-end speed, but it’s his burst through the line of scrimmage that makes him so dangerous. ... He sees the hole before it opens and gets through it.”
McClatcher ’s future might be at receiver, and he lines up there at times for fifth-ranked Federal Way, although his primary position is running back. The 6-2 Eagles, already assured of a playoff spot in SPSL 4A, plays Kent-Meridian at home Friday.
McClatcher stands just 5 feet 9, but has muscled up to 185 pounds — arm tackles are a thing of the past — and his 4.41 speed in the 40 is exceptional. Google “fastest high-school running back” and McClatcher’s 2013 highlight video pops up first.
That initial 100-yard performance came in the seventh game of the 2011 season, when senior D.J. May sat with an injury. But McClatcher, just 5-6, 155 pounds and barely 15 at the time, had already established himself as the Eagles’ top return man.
Meagher, now in his 17th season as head coach, believes freshmen belong on the freshman team, but McClatcher made it impossible to leave him there as he shredded ninth-grade defenses.
“It wasn’t fair to have him play freshman ball, to be honest,” Meagher said.
McClatcher was dubbed “Blue Mamba” by a radio crew as a sophomore, a spin-off reference to former Oregon standout De’Anthony Thomas, and his first scholarship offer — from Portland State — ensued. Dozens more followed, including bids from all Pac-12 schools except Oregon and Stanford.
USC, where his idol Reggie Bush played — hence the No. 5 McClatcher wears — asked for a commitment last spring, according to Chico, and apparently withdrew the offer when he declined to make an early choice.
McClatcher said he plans to commit after the season is over and puts Washington, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Boise State on his short list.
Kam Warner met Chico McClatcher III when she was a hurdler at the University of Washington. She roomed with one of his sisters. He was a former basketball star at Foss High School in Tacoma whose college career never got on track.
The romance was short-lived, but Kam gave birth to a son who inherited their speed and athleticism.
Warner grew up in a football family and began playing herself when she heard about a Seattle-area women’s team, the Warbirds, often with son Chico in tow.
Chico happily played soccer as an 8-year-old and didn’t want to sign up for football the next year.
“I was a little scared,” he recalls.
More than a little, according to Warner, who later played for the Seattle Mist in the Lingerie Football League. “I had to drag him out of the car,” she said.
Too quick to catch
Mike Bible, a coach for the Federal Way Hawks youth league, remembers the ears, and then the gears, when asked early impressions of a 9-year-old Chico.
“He hadn’t grown into them yet,” Bible said of the ears.
Chico showed his ability to switch gears in his first game, when he turned a simple play into a 75-yard touchdown.
“That’s when we knew he was special,” Bible said. “He ran by everybody untouched.”
D’Jimon Jones, now a junior and Federal Way’s starting quarterback, was on that 89ers team with Chico.
“I thought I was fast until I saw him,” Jones said.
Chico’s speed was apparent in kindergarten, when a teacher would ask him to run against his fifth-graders.
“He would smoke them all,” said his grandfather, Chico McClatcher II, who played football and ran track growing up in Memphis in the 1950s. “Right then, we knew he was going to be great.”
He was just 2 years old when he had his portrait taken with a football that seems almost half his size. His grandparents called him ‘Little Man.’
One of his uncles is former Seahawk James McKnight, and the McClatchers were regulars at home games during his stay. Afterward, kids would run from end zone to end zone, with young Chico always yards in front. On a trip to Dallas, he had his picture taken on the lap of Emmitt Smith, who was told by grandpa McClatcher, “He’s going to take your job one day.”
Now that’s Little Man’s plan, to one day play in the NFL.
Chico III and Chico IV haven’t always had the closest father-and-son relationship, young Chico said. But when his dad suffered a stroke last year at age 40 and it was unclear if he would survive, his son rushed to the hospital in tears.
“It hit me hard,” he said. “It was very emotional.”
Dad not only survived, he proved doctors wrong who said he would never walk or talk again.
“He’s been our walking miracle,” Rosa McClatcher said of her son.
A former ironworker, Chico III shows few physical effects of the stroke now, but words come haltingly. Dad, grandpa and grandma sit together at Federal Way games, and there was pride in dad’s eyes when Little Man broke several long runs in a recent game against Mount Rainier.
“He’s gone!” grandpa yelled. Another player’s grandfather led a round of high-fives, like Chico III used to do before the stroke.
“He doesn’t show it now, but inside he’s overjoyed,” Chico II said.
Opposing coaches talk about game-planning around Chico McClatcher IV, and most times the plan doesn’t work. Few teams kick to him and those who do often pay the price. He has two kick/punt returns for touchdowns this season and five the past three seasons.
McClatcher’s speed helped Federal Way win the Class 4A state track championship last spring — but Meagher likes to say it’s not about how fast he is, but how fast he gets to fast. He’s a game-changer with an ability to make potential tacklers miss.
“He is the best open-field runner I have ever coached against,” said Spanaway Lake’s John Robak, in his 32nd year in the business. “Once he puts his foot in the ground and makes a cut and gets to top speed, it is over.”
McClatcher has scored by every means possible and has even thrown two TD passes. He set an SPSL 4A rushing record this season with 397 yards against Decatur, with 277 of those coming on five long touchdown runs.
Ask him his favorite part of the game and he says he loves catching the ball, but also making an impact play on defense — like creating a turnover. And scoring, of course.
“Every time I touch the ball, I just want to score,” he said. “Whether it happens or not, I just want to be a playmaker and be versatile.”
Not surprisingly, then, he picked last season’s 105-yard interception return for a touchdown against Beamer as his favorite play.
Meagher’s top choice? It’s not a run or a catch, but a block McClatcher threw last season, after QB Keenan Curran kept the ball on an option. Curran (now at the Air Force Academy) has good speed, too. But once McClatcher realized he wasn’t getting the pitch, he zoomed around Curran and made the block that led to the TD.
“To me, that shows what high-school football is all about,” Meagher said. “Chico’s a superstar, but he’s not out there for himself. He’s 100 percent doing what’s right for the team.”
That block is first up on McClatcher’s 2013 highlight reel. Meagher has coached only one NFL player, 2001 grad Shaun Bodiford, but believes McClatcher could be the next. Special teams might be his ticket, and Meagher said he wouldn’t be surprised to see him start as a college freshman.
“He’ll be their best punt returner, wherever he goes,” the coach said.
And that is no secret.
No catching Chico
|Chico McClatcher’s numbers during his high-school career:|
|* Missed two games with stomach virus|
|** Federal Way is assured of at least two more games|
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