E-W quarterback, coach buddies for life

  • David Pan<br>Enterprise sports editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 1:11pm


The numbers are simply dazzling.

In a 37-13 first-round Class 4A state playoff victory over Snohomish, Edmonds-Woodway quarterback Kyle McCartney completed 11 of 15 passes for 208 yards and four touchdowns.

The senior standout has completed 78 of 117 passes (67 percent) for 1,505 yards and 17 touchdowns with only four interceptions this season. McCartney also has run the ball 45 times for 468 yards (second on the team to running back Tony Heard) and scored nine touchdowns.

While no one is surprised McCartney has put up such impressive numbers this year, it wasn’t so long ago that he was largely unknown to most football observers in the area. As a sophomore, McCartney started in the defensive secondary but coming into his junior season, he had never taken a varsity snap at quarterback.

Some people might have been a little nervous turning over the offensive reins to McCartney.

Edmonds-Woodway assistant/quarterbacks coach Matt Manning wasn’t one of them. From day one, Manning knew McCartney was the right player for the job.

“Kyle is our secret,” Manning recalled thinking before the start of the 2006 season. “No one really knows about it.” Manning’s confidence was well-placed as McCartney threw for 2,095 yards and 28 touchdowns and helped lead Edmonds-Woodway into the state semifinals for the first time in school history. He earned first-team, all-league honors as a quarterback and defensive back.

For years, Manning knew it was only a matter of time before McCartney started garnering honors and leading the Warriors to success. Then again, Manning would be the first to admit he is not an unbiased observer of McCartney.

Manning and McCartney do not have your typical coach-player relationship.

The two struck up a friendship when Manning was a senior at Edmonds-Woodway High School and McCartney was a third-grader at Chase Lake Elementary School.

McCartney was paired up with Manning, then Edmonds-Woodway’s starting quarterback, as part of the Warrior Buddies program. In the program, high school football players serve as mentors for elementary school students.

Debbie Alseth, who along with head coach John Gradwohl developed the program in 1997, was one of McCartney’s teachers and mentioned it to him.

McCartney, who was 8 years old at the time, admits he was a little bit in awe to find out that his Warrior buddy was the 17-year-old starting quarterback for Edmonds-Woodway.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” he said. “It just wasn’t the starting quarterback from some high school team. When you’re little it seems like an NFL-type of player. There’s a huge gap between age and size.”

McCartney met his future Warrior buddy after practice one day and he then started coming into the locker room after home games to hear Gradwohl give his post-game talk. Manning went over and had dinner at the McCartneys’ home a couple of times and also made regular phone calls to McCartney.

The high school football players also visit their buddies at school. Manning made it a point to attend several of McCartney’s football games.

“He was a really good Warrior buddy,” McCartney said of Manning. “He kind of went above and beyond. … I think he called me more than he needed to – to see what’s up.”

McCartney’s father Rolfe is a commercial fisherman, whose schedule forced him to miss many of his son’s sporting events. Manning helped to fill some of that void by being at McCartney’s games.

“During that time he probably tried to hang out with me,” McCartney said. “He might have thought I needed some more guidance or just someone to hang out.”

Manning noticed early on how talented an athlete McCartney was and how hard he worked.

“He wasn’t the fastest kid like he is now. He wasn’t the most gifted kid like he is now,” Manning said. “It always seemed to me that he was the smartest player on the field and he always wanted to study. … He emulated things so well. He can recreate it because he’s so smart and had such good body control even at a young age.”

The friendship between McCartney and Manning continued after the football season ended and even when Manning left the state to go to college at Dennison University in Ohio.

The two used to exchange e-mails and sometimes instant-messaged each other. McCartney liked that he had a friend who was living in another state.

“We got along really well,” McCartney said. “We just kept talking and didn’t really stop. He’d send me letters on how he was doing at college and asked how I was doing.”

Manning expects the friendship to continue when McCartney heads to college in the fall.

“I would think Kyle and I will be friends for the rest of our lives,” Manning said.

McCartney started playing quarterback in the eighth grade and Manning, who returned to the Northwest, continued to serve as a mentor for McCartney.

Since Manning is the quarterback’s coach, he and McCartney have worked closely the last two years. Last season, the two talked almost on a daily basis.

Manning’s role in his success is “probably more than I know because he’s always giving me advice, little things to focus on,” McCartney said. “He’s been there and done that. He knows what it’s like and can share useful information.

“That’s how it’s kind of been ever since I was playing quarterback. … He really wants me to succeed. I think if he sees me succeed he feels like he had a hand in it and he did.”

Manning may have played a role in his friend’s development as a quarterback but the credit really belongs to McCartney.

“He is the hardest worker,” Manning said. “He knows what he wants and he does what he needs to do to get there.”

McCartney’s work ethic is unparalleled. The two often spent time together fine-tuning McCartney’s passing skills or reviewing film.

“It’s rare to find a kid that has that attitude, who’s also your best player,” Manning said. “Normally, the best player is not always the hardest worker. But he is the best player who also is the hardest worker. It’s a unique combination.”

An important quality that successful quarterbacks have and that Manning has tried to instill in McCartney is the need to keep his emotions in check throughout the game. McCartney has had a calm demeanor throughout his football career and has continued to master it throughout high school.

“He could throw five bad passes in a row and the sixth pass is going to be on the money because he believes in himself and he’s not going to get up and down too much,” Manning added. “He’s just kind of a constant and consistent leader.”

Manning, who manages a sports medicine practice, also conducts coaching clinics across the country. He’s worked with many talented high school quarterbacks through the years. If the game was on the line, Manning knows which quarterback he would want under center.

“If we had one snap and one play to go, I’m going to pick Kyle,” McCartney said. “I think most coaches that have been around would pick him too. … You know he’s going to keep his mind in the game. You know that he’s not going to lose his cool. You know he’s not going to make a mistake. You know he’s prepared himself.”

Both McCartney and Manning see the Warrior buddy program as playing an important part in Edmonds-Woodway’s recent success, both on and off the field. The Warriors are making their fourth straight trip to the state playoffs. Edmonds-Woodway has won four straight Western Conference South Division championships. Fan support has never been better.

The players take their responsibilities as mentors seriously, said McCartney, whose Warrior buddy this year is Alseth’s nephew Tate Budnick.

This year 42 elementary students were matched up with 42 buddies on the football team.

“It helps us to be better people because we’re role models,” McCartney said. “We know they’re watching our every move and it’s a little reminder for us to do the right thing.”

His players benefit tremendously from the program, Gradwohl said.

“We’re giving back to the community,” he said. “But we get more out of it. The kids learn that ‘I have got to be a role model.’ They’ve got to be responsible all the time. People look up to them.”

The Warrior buddy program helps the players realize that they are not only playing for themselves but for their community, Manning said. That feeling, he added, is hard to replace.

Neither are the countless hours spent by volunteer parents. Peggy McCartney, Kyle’s mother, and Pam Peters, mother of Daniel Peters, currently run the program.

“These parents put so much time into it,” Manning said. “Without the right parents and the right support these type of programs would never work. The parents make it happen.”

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