NEW YORK — If you closed your eyes, you could hear when he touched the ball. The crowd would hush, then quietly rise together in anticipation of what was about to happen.
But if you kept them open, as most of the thousands who watched him over the course of four years did, you would sit in wonder.
Christian McCaffrey always stood out on the field during his high school football days in Colorado while starring at Valor Christian. By the time he was a sophomore, he was a household name. Thirty-two total touchdowns will do that. As a junior, McCaffrey scored another 41, and did it while sitting out the fourth quarter of most games.
As a senior, well, there wasn't a high school football fan in the state who didn't want to catch a glimpse of him. He was, and remains, one of the best players the state has ever produced.
Now, here, in the center of the college football universe — for at least the next two days — McCaffrey is once again standing out. Only this time, the audience is slightly larger.
McCaffrey, a sophomore at Stanford who took the country by storm during the 2015 college football season, is a finalist for the Heisman Trophy along with Alabama running back Derrick Henry and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. According to CHSAANow research, McCaffrey will become just the fifth product of a Colorado high school to finish in the top six in Heisman voting since the award was started in 1935.
What's more: McCaffrey has a very good shot at becoming the state's first winner when it is announced on Saturday. Two Colorado products have finished second, but none have ever won the trophy, which honors college football's best player.
"It's hit me a little bit. It's so surreal," McCaffrey said on Friday, when he met with the media in Times Square. "There's so much, and this week is so hectic, but I'm just trying to enjoy it and relish the moment. If that were to happen, that'd be an extremely emotional moment for me, that's for sure."
This season, McCaffrey set the NCAA record for all-purpose yardage with 3,496. That's not exactly a new thing. He also owns the Colorado high school record for all purpose yardage in a career with 8,839.
Said Alabama's Henry: "He's just so versatile."
In fact, on Wednesday, McCaffrey won the Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the college football's most versatile player.
Asked if he thought the fact that he also plays special teams might give him the edge in this year's Heisman vote, McCaffrey said he hoped it would.
"I definitely think versatility is something that makes playing the game harder," McCaffrey said.
Around Colorado in recent weeks and months, support of his Heisman campaign has massed behind McCaffrey. Players who played against him are lining up behind him. Shoot, coaches who didn't even coach against him are riveted.
McCaffrey has felt it.
"That's home for me, and I feel so much support from back home, and that's one of the coolest things in the world for me," McCaffrey said. "To see everyone back home supporting me and sending nice texts and shooting me up is such a blessing. I can't thank the state of Colorado enough for being so great."
- Asked about being the son of an NFL player in former Broncos, Giants and 49ers wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, Christian said: "He's been so awesome and supportive and just teaching me how everything works and how to approach the game and how to approach life in general. I think it's definitely been an advantage for me."
- The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner will be announced Saturday at 6 p.m. MST on ESPN.