Olentangy High School football coach Mark Solis admits he might have underestimated Nick McCafferty when the latter was a sophomore linebacker who got most of his playing time on junior varsity and special teams.
Until one day in practice, anyway, when McCafferty made a lasting impression.
"He lit up Cam Kennedy and I was like, 'Wow,' " Solis recalled of a practice early in 2016, a hit that was especially memorable because Kennedy had rushed for 1,048 yards and nine touchdowns the season before. "When you just look at (McCafferty), he doesn't look like much of a physical presence, but he has great instincts and a unique way of using his hips to tackle. He hits you so fast that you don't even know it. He doesn't say much, but he leads by example."
McCafferty is second on the Braves in tackles with 52, behind defensive lineman Colton Doup's 63, and is tied with linebacker Trevor Solis for the team lead in forced fumbles with two.
Olentangy is 1-4 entering its OCC-Buckeye Division opener Friday, Sept. 28, at home against Westerville South.
McCafferty lettered as a sophomore and started all 12 games at outside linebacker last year, recording 78 tackles with one sack and two forced fumbles. He moved to middle linebacker this season as the Braves moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, and communicates all calls on the field.
"I focus on technique and staying low when I get my tackles," McCafferty said. "(Going from a 4-3 to a 3-4), the biggest impact is we have to shed more blocks because the offensive linemen get to us quicker. You have to be faster. You have to be able to punch better to get through those blocks.
"I did like the change because we have a lot of speed. This fits our players a lot better. It's helped us a lot."
Solis compared McCafferty to Jake Didion, Alex Draime and Jimmy Elmurr, who anchored the Braves' defense during their Division II state semifinalist season of 2014.
"Pound for pound, (McCafferty) is the toughest kid on our team and the hardest-hitting linebacker we've had around here in a long time," Solis said. "He just has a knack for getting the ball with physicality you don't always see anymore. He hasn't skipped a beat this year. His athleticism is his biggest asset."
Olentangy lost 30-18 at home to New Albany on Sept. 21 despite quarterback Connor Haag throwing for 382 yards and three touchdowns, two to Caden Kaiser and the other to Luke Riedel. Kaiser caught 10 passes for 178 yards and Riedel eight for 104, but the Braves were held to four rushing yards and allowed 23 unanswered points in the middle two quarters.
South fell to 2-3 with a 28-0 loss at Reynoldsburg, the sixth-ranked team in Division I last week, on Sept. 21.
McCafferty is hoping to play in college, likely at the Division II or III level. He said he has talked with John Carroll, Mount Union, Otterbein and Wittenberg.
For now, his top priority is helping the Braves turn around their season. Their losses have come by a combined 31 points and the first three were decided in the fourth quarter.
"We just need to finish games. We've gotten off to good starts and it's just been a matter of finishing," McCafferty said. "We have a really good defense and our offense has a lot of weapons, but it just comes back to finishing."