By Mike Cane Herald Writer
EVERETT — Most of the athletes preparing to play in Saturday’s East-West All-Star Football Game are gridiron recruits. Soon they will join their respective college programs and begin the next step in their football careers.
But for Chris McGrath, this is it.
A basketball-first athlete, McGrath finished his prep hoops career at Cascade High School as the program’s career leading scorer (1,246 points). The four-year varsity starter also set Cascade’s single-game scoring record (49 points) and earned all-league first team honors three times.
Earlier this month McGrath signed with the Carroll College (Helena, Mont.) men’s basketball team. Hoops is his future, but he’s not quite done with football.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound McGrath is part of the West team that is gearing up to play the East squad in Saturday’s Class 3A/4A East-West Football Game at Everett Memorial Stadium. It’s an incredible situation for the wide receiver/defensive back/kick returner, considering he didn’t play football his sophomore year and played only half a season as a freshman.
Starting with his sophomore year, McGrath was completely dedicated to basketball. But friends and Cascade coaches urged him to consider returning to football.
“They just told me how good of an athlete I could be and show school spirit,” McGrath said, “and if kids see me out playing football they’re going to want to join the team.”
“I didn’t leave him alone. We put the full-court press on Mr. McGrath to come out for football,” said Nick Clovsky, Cascade’s new head football coach who at the time was a Bruins assistant.
With encouragement from then-Cascade boys basketball coach Jamar Williams, McGrath wavered but ultimately turned out for football. It wasn’t exactly a smooth transition. Since his priority was basketball, McGrath missed Cascade’s spring and summer gridiron activities.
In particular, the physical contact of varsity football was a shock for McGrath.
“It was something that he wasn’t accustomed to at all,” Clovsky said.
McGrath played defensive back and wide receiver his junior season. Tackling wasn’t his strength, Clovsky said, and receivers in the Bruins’ run-focused offense rarely did anything other than block.
While McGrath eventually became a solid player in the defensive secondary, he made the biggest impact as a kick returner. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns as a junior and had another TD return as a senior.
“He definitely gave us a lot of good field position,” Clovsky said. “He was a threat every time he touched the ball to go all the way.”
“It’s not so much that he’s terribly fast; he’s terribly elusive,” Clovsky added. “He finds open areas on the field.”
McGrath ended up receiving all-league first team honors as a kick returner in back-to-back seasons. That success helped him earn a spot on the West All-Star team. As he took a break from practicing with the West squad Wednesday, McGrath put this week in perspective.
“It’s going to be my last football game ever. It’s just a great experience,” he said. “A lot of people are going to come and cheer me on.”
“I know I’m going to miss (football) and relationships with all the players,” McGrath added. “All of these guys are going on to play college football. I’m like the only one that’s going on to play basketball.”
West team head coach Mark Stewart said McGrath will likely play defensive back and possibly get some snaps at receiver Saturday.
McGrath gets to play his last game alongside Brandon Blinn, McGrath’s teammate at Cascade. West team alternate Blinn, a linebacker/tight end, was added to the roster on Monday after several players dropped out.
McGrath and Blinn get to team up one final time at Everett Memorial, where they played their varsity home football games.
“It’s awesome to be able to share it with my teammate,” McGrath said, “especially on our home field.”
Mike Cane: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the prep sports blog Double Team at www.heraldnet.com/doubleteam.