There are times in the history of any college or university football program where a player has established himself as a true giant within the program. That his play on the field has left a legacy that generations afterward will talk about. A guy like Herschel Walker or Ronnie Lott, where alumni and fans hear the name and they instantly think of greatness.
The trouble with having such an all-time great like this is that the player who follows in that person’s footsteps is rarely able to achieve the same kind of greatness. There is such an elevated level of play that no one can soar to the heights that were achieved, because the player is so gifted that it is virtually impossible to do so.
However, there are those special players that not only step in, but rise to the forefront and create their own legacy. Their play is on such a high level as well that the football program feels no sense of drop-off from the year of graduation of the first player to the next year. Macalester College has been blessed with a player of that stature and his name is Cash McGregor.
For four years the Fighting Scots had Jole Miller patrolling the defensive backfield like some Patriot missile, waiting to attack and obliterate anything that came in his pathway. Jole was the nicest young man a person could imagine off of the field, but once he stepped between the lines he was a force. He was the kind of player that teams scheme directly against to make sure that he could not hurt them.
Miller graduated last June, joining a whole group of sensational seniors that were the core of this defense. That left a huge void, not only in who would take the positions of this group, but also in who would step up and fill the gap in leadership. Fellow defensive backs Bolton Howles, Konnor Fleming and Miller recognized the skills and leadership of McGregor, and so they spent last season training their protégé on how to lead the up-and-coming Scots. They spent time to teach and model how to reach another level in one’s game but, most importantly, they taught the then freshman to stay true to his own game.
“Last year was really awesome having Jole, Bolton, and Konnor, and the other guys in the backfield, and I really had great seniors to look up to, not only for how they played on the field but for their preparation. So I’m just trying to help the team the best way Cash can, just using what I’ve learned from them because I’m grateful for all that they’ve given me.”
The results were positive from the start. On a team that had an outstanding group of upper classmen to man the defense, the freshman found himself gaining more playing time with each passing week. McGregor had 16 total tackles through the first seven games, but in the last four he registered 17, including a season high 7 in the conference title game against Illinois College. He had four tackles against National Champion Wisconsin-Whitewater, and proved that he belonged on that field with the nation’s best.
He has been a true warrior for the Fighting Scots, but one the team nearly didn’t have. Cash grew up in Wasilla, Alaska, where he was a star in three sports (football, basketball, and soccer). In 2013 he was named the State Defensive Player of the Year, and was a first-team all-star on both offense and defense.
He was excelling on the field and in the classroom (a National Honor Society recipient), but he had not really got a jump on where he wanted to go to school. He had great interest in attending Macalester College, but it was already October and he had not even talked to Scots Head Football Coach Tony Jennison. He realized that if he was going to come to Macalester he better start making some plans, so that month he came to the school to visit family and see the college at the same time. After meeting with Coach Jennison and seeing the team he knew this was where he wanted to go to college.
He went back home to discuss it with his family, and hear their input. The decision seemed sound, and when his cousin decided that he, too, wanted to attend Macalester College, the decision was a no-brainer at that point. The Economics and Pre-Medicine major was heading to Minnesota.
The decision was not only a great one for Cash, but his teammates recognized the brilliance of their new safety as well. Fellow sophomore Sam Bordo, a wide receiver on the team, pointed out that playing against Cash was really helping him to hone his own skills, and brother Victor Bordo, a senior now, talked of how McGregor really made the receiving corps think that this team was going to be good for a long time. “There is incredibly talent there,” he said of McGregor.
The talent is truly there, but there is much more to the sophomore safety than sheer size and speed. At 6-1, 215, Cash is an incredible physical specimen; a player with good size and speed to play the position. This is true, but where he excels most is in his instincts. His ability to read plays and get to the ball is one of the things that makes him…well…Jole Milleresque. Cash is a true student of the game, and it is his father that he attributes this to.
“I feel like I’m very knowledgeable about the game, I watch a lot of football, maybe too much football,” he explains with a laugh. “I remember just sitting with my dad since I was like five-years-old, always watching TV and talking about strategy. So I feel like my study of the game is definitely one of my better characteristics. Being vocal on the field and not afraid to really talk people’s heads off is what I feel I need to do.”
McGregor is the kind of player that every coach would love to have. He is tough, intelligent, and has great skill. He is also someone who understands what it takes to keep improving his game, and who plays with discipline. He understands his part, and works to ensure that his team gets the best from him every day in practice and every Saturday in games.
“In the off-season I try to think about what I can control, and try to get in the best shape and the best frame of mind for the next season. Obviously the goal is to maintain and exceed what we did, but at the same time as an individual I just try to make sure I’m doing my part and that’s all I can do.”
Even in the classroom the sophomore has stepped up his game. He realized early on at Macalester that he had not really been challenged in high school and so he had put in the extra effort. Being true to himself he found a way to balance all of his activities with his education, while still being able to take care of himself.
“My high school wasn’t super strenuous for me, especially my senior year, so this last year took some time to transition to the new schedule, but you still have to force yourself to get to bed at a reasonable hour. As long as you maximize your time it usually works itself out.”
This is part of what makes Cash such a special young man. He is quite committed to doing the things that will help his team and himself. He works hard at succeeding and doesn’t give anything a half-baked effort. For this, he puts the praise squarely on the shoulders of one person.
“It all starts with my brother who taught me a really strong work ethic. He taught me to work my butt off in the weight room, and all the time that I spent in there allowed me to use my athleticism on the field. Just knowing the game, watching a lot of film, and really being able to use the mental and physical part to work with my skills, I think really makes me into the player that I am. He taught me to really work hard in everything I do.”
That strong work ethic has developed into him creating a series of goals for himself each season. Many players don’t like to challenge themselves in this way, because it is hard to determine what a team will do offensively against them, so they cannot really make benchmarks for what kind of success or chances at making plays they may have. Cash sees this from the exact opposite point of view.
“I think goal setting is huge, so I wrote down some goals for the season and I try to write down goals for individual games and hold myself accountable to them. I share them with teammates as well. I just think that goal setting is a huge part of making progress and getting better as an athlete, while holding yourself accountable.”
Combining that desire to reach his goals with a great football IQ allows him to read patterns and formations like he is reading a microeconomics book. This has enabled the defensive back to become a force on this team, much as Miller was for the previous four years. Now he is being asked to take his game to a new level as he takes on more of a leadership role with the team as well, an idea he truly relishes.
“I feel I can be a leader of the defense, especially in the defensive backfield. Trey Muraoka is with me back there. We definitely help out with communication, because Jole was so good. He was yelling the whole game and telling people about formations, so we really try to pick that up because that was there for four years and now it’s gone. People haven’t played without that for so long, so we’re trying to be vocal leaders on the field, especially for the younger guys. We have quite a few freshman’s safeties this year who came in, so we’re trying to show them how to prepare and be the leaders on the field. Being a safety you have to be able to communicate and be a leader.”
So far this season Cash McGregor is fourth on the Macalester Scots in tackles with 11, as the team has faced offenses that primarily liked to run the ball. As the conference schedule begins, those skills and talents of his are going to be challenged as teams are going to attempt to attack his team’s defense at every level, both on the ground and through the air. Cash is looking forward to the challenge and partaking in the part of the sports that he truly loves best.
“I like the physicality and being able to have space to see what’s going on, and once I figure that out then to be able to go and fly around. That’s the best part, just having the space to see everything and then go play.”
A big void was created when Jole Miller graduated. That void was filled by the capable shoes of Cash McGregor, who is already establishing his own legacy with the Fighting Scots. For these three seasons fans will get to enjoy the talents, brilliance, and tenacity of their physical safety. They will get to watch one of the hardest working people anyone will meet, and one heck of a football player on top of that. Then in three years it will be time to ask, “Who will fill the gigantic shoes of Cash McGregor?”
By Robert Pannier
Featured Image Copyright Christopher Mitchell / SportShotPhoto.com