HIGHLANDS RANCH — If his first outing is any indication, it's going to be a very special junior season for Dylan McCaffrey.
McCaffrey accounted for three total touchdowns as Valor Christian football routed Bonneville (Idaho) 51-12 in Zero Week on Friday.
"I feel a lot more confident this year," said McCaffrey, now in his second season as the team's starting quarterback. "But just physically, I've grown a lot, too."
McCaffrey is now listed at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds — up from 6-3, 170 as a sophomore, when he helped guide Valor Christian to the Class 5A title game, where it came up just short to Cherry Creek.
He was stellar on Friday. McCaffrey's first pass fell incomplete, but he connected on his next five, including two scores. He had touchdown passes of 56 and 81 yards in the first 14 minutes of game time — and also a 19-yard rushing score.
McCaffrey finished 5-of-6 with 173 yards passing.
"He's a different football player than he was last year," said Valor Christian coach Rod Sherman. "I think the playoffs last year really challenged us. I think all of us, media probably included, forgot he was just a sophomore. And I think you see a killer instinct in him this year. You see maturity. You see growth."
Senior tight end Booker Schelhaas caught both of McCaffrey's touchdowns, displaying a burst of speed on the 81-yard score. Cole Baker added a receiving touchdown from backup quarterback Blake Stenstrom, who Sherman praised.
Valor also displayed an electric freshman in Joshia Davis, who had a nine-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter. Davis is also involved in the return game. In the blowout, it was a rare early-season luxury.
"We got some experience to a freshman that I think has a chance to be a pretty strong player for us," Sherman said, noting that top tailback Tanner Tadra wasn't needed much with the game out of hand.
The schedule to come will be much more difficult — Bonneville went 2-7 while playing in Idaho's largest classification (5A) last season — but on Friday, Valor Christian looked very worthy of the No. 1 ranking bestowed upon the Eagles in the preseason.
Valor scored on its first five offensive possessions, including two one-play drives, and also added a defensive touchdown. Its defense forced two turnovers, and allowed just nine yards rushing.
If anyone arrived late to the game, they might have missed Valor's first 44 points. It was 23-0 after the first quarter, and then the Eagles added three more scores in the first 1:49 of the second quarter. All three came in a span of 43 seconds.
Many starters were out in the second quarter, and they didn't play in the second half.
"It's a great first game for us," said Sherman, who quickly noted that, "We know we kind of have a gauntlet coming up for us our next three games."
That gauntlet: No. 3 Pomona next Friday and then two road trips in consecutive weeks. The first is to Bentonville, a team which won Arkansas' Class 7A title last year; the second is to East, Utah, which played Valor tough last season.
"Pomona is very well deserving of a top-3 ranking," Sherman said. "And then we go to Bentonville, and Salt Lake. We'll be ready for that bye week, whether we're 1-3 or something else, but we've got our work cut out for us the next few weeks."
Added McCaffrey: "Not all games will be (blowouts) like that. We'll have to grind some down. There are some great Colorado teams coming up next for us. Pomona, they're as physical as any team there is."
Valor Christian has been to six consecutive championship games, including a 25-24 loss to Cherry Creek in last year's title game. Prior to that, the school had won five consecutive championships spanning three different classes.
It was last season's title game which sparked a renewed focus within Valor's program to be more physical.
"We got out-physicaled last year in the state championship game," Schelhaas said.
And so, "We've talked for eight months about how we have to be more physical, more grit, more tenacity," Sherman said.
Another focus? Being aggressive. Valor opened the game with two onside kicks, and two two-point conversions.
"That's going to be our mentality all season long," Sherman said. "We're not going to be passive. We're going to be aggressive. Life's too short not to have fun playing football."