Derek McCartney embraces role as a leader for the Buffs

There’s a saying that goes “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

This season, Colorado Buffaloes senior linebacker Derek McCartney looks to prove that mantra to himself.

McCartney, a fifth-year senior from Westminster, was poised to play a big role for the Buffs in what turned into their magical 2016 season. However, his year was cut short following an ACL tear during CU’s 45-28 loss at Michigan less than a month into the season.

“It’s tough,” McCartney said. “It’s really hard when that kind of thing happens, but at the same time I was really blessed to be on this team and I was really happy for my teammates.”

Getting to where he’s at now has had ups and downs along the way, but this season McCartney looks to bounce back from that devastating injury and pick up where he left off.

“The whole recovery process is long and sometimes it’s very difficult,” he said. “But you just keep taking it one day at a time and at this point I’m feeling really good and I’m excited to get out there with my teammates.”

As most of the black and gold faithful probably know, Derek is the grandson of former Colorado head coach Bill McCartney, who coached the Buffs from 1982-1994 and was at the helm when CU captured a National Championship in 1990.

“He’s definitely inspired me a ton [and] he still texts me almost every day saying any kind of encouragement he can think of,” McCartney said of his grandfather. “He’s just always sending me something, and when I talk to him all he does is encourage.”

McCartney stressed that his grandfather does this type of motivation every day.

“I called him for his birthday, and he started encouraging me,” McCartney said. “I was like ‘grandpa I’m calling you to talk to you about your birthday’, and he’s over there just encouraging me. He’s like, ‘you know I’m just a coach, just trying to do what I do’ and I respect that.”

Before McCartney’s early departure from the Buffs’ starting lineup last season, he played a large part on defense in 2015. That season he claimed five sacks and 70 tackles, making him fifth among Colorado defensive players for that metric.

In addition to aiding the team on the field, McCartney now looks to set an example for his fellow teammates. 

“I think they can look up to me [for] guidance,” he said.  “A lot of it is because I’m confident in what we’re doing. I understand the defense, I work hard and I think that kind of thing speaks volumes to guys underneath me.”

Along those lines, McCartney has built  a bond with the Buffs’ first-year defensive coordinator, D.J. Eliot, whom Colorado hired after his predecessor, Jim Leavitt, took the defensive coordinator job at Oregon.

“Coach Eliot definitely has passion,” McCartney said. “He cares deeply about the game and he cares about us.”

In his first year of calling the shots on defense at CU, Eliot has come to see the potential impact that McCartney can make.

“He’s very smart,” Eliot said of McCartney. “I think Derek’s very mature. He’s a physical player … he’s been an excellent leader and an excellent player for us in the first game.”

McCartney had four tackles, three of them solo, in the Buffs’ 17-3 win over Colorado State in last week’s Rocky Mountain Showdown. Having him back on the defensive side of the ball this season has certainly increased the Buffaloes’ chances of stopping opposing offenses.

 The Westminster native is on schedule to receive his Master’s degree in Integrative Physiology this December. He can add this accomplishment to the list: holding the line on defense, beating a torn ACL and bringing continued glory to the McCartney name.

The tough certainly get going after all.

Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Drew Sharek at

Justin Guerriero

Justin Guerriero is a senior managing editor for the CUI from Pittsburgh, PA, who fell in love with the mountains upon touring CU Boulder for the first time prior to his freshman year. He studies broadcast production with minors in history and communication. Follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo

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