Hip-swiveling, fleet-of-foot NFL tailback Reggie Bush is Chico McClatcher’s football model. It is understandable — both are smaller than your normal running back.
But McClatcher’s role model sleeps just down the hallway in his Federal Way house.
His father? The man by the same name was a standout basketball player but never seriously donned the cleats.
An older brother? None of those around — Chico is one of a kind.
His hero in football is actually his mother, Kam Warner. A former track standout at the University of Washington, she played running back for three different women’s tackle football teams.
Warner wasn’t just good — she was the Barry Sanders of the Independent Women’s Football League.
“I just saw how much work she put into the sport,” McClatcher said.
Well, the Federal Way High School star sure paid close attention. Leaving the school with incredible career totals of more than 8,000 all-purpose yards and 91 touchdowns, the Eagles’ do-everything tailback has been selected as The News Tribune’s All-Area football Player of the Year.
Coaches and players from the South Puget Sound League — even others from different leagues — all pegged McClatcher the runaway choice for the annual honor. His stupefying moves are the stuff of legends.
“No one even compares,” Kentwood coach Rex Norris said. “He is a game changer on any play — offense, defense and special teams.”
Before McClatcher even thought about registering the first of many career 100-yard rushing games — against Rogers as a ninth grader in 2011 — he watched a lot of how his mother ran clutching a football and plowing over and through defenders.
A California native and West Bakersfield High School graduate, Warner had been around football her whole life. Her father played at Southern University in Louisiana. And her brother was a defensive back at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
“Exposure was 100 percent,” she said. “Every Sunday, we watched football — all day. And I went to every one of my brother’s games in high school.”
After her UW track career as a sprinter, hurdler and long jumper concluded in 1997, Warner settled into adult life. She was a community corrections officer raising a child.
In 2001, she answered a newspaper advertisement looking for women to try out for the Seattle Warbirds, a professional team in the Women’s American Football League.
Warner earned a roster spot, and eventually saw significant playing time for a team that finished 9-0-1, winning the Pacific Northwest Division title.
The Warbirds folded after one season, but a core group from that organization founded the Tacoma/Seattle Majestics, which Warner joined in 2006. The team practiced at French Field in Kent four days a week, and McClatcher would often accompany his mother to practices and games.
“I would say 90 percent of it was fun,” said Warner, who played a total of six seasons. “The challenge was getting to practices. A lot of the women were working. Some of us had kids.
“The impact in football was exciting. ... I did not mind getting hit at all.”
At the time, McClatcher was playing all sorts of sports, including soccer and basketball.
“Seeing my mom play, it got me excited,” McClatcher said. “If she played football, I knew I could play football.”
As a kid, he began tearing up youth football leagues around South King County — enough where Federal Way High coach John Meagher knew about McClatcher before he arrived at the school. And before his ninth-grade year, the pint-sized McClatcher traveled with the high school team to Central Washington University summer camp.
Late in 2011, as the Eagles were preparing for the postseason, McClatcher ran a play with the first-string offense going against the No. 1 defense. And he ran right into hulking Jesse Leifi, a defensive lineman.
“Jesse absolutely blasted Chico, and his legs went about his head,” Meagher said. “And the kid got back up, went into the huddle with tears in his eyes.”
To this day, McClatcher admits that was as big a hit as he’s ever taken on a football field.
“It affected my pride a little bit,” McClatcher said. “I mean, that has been a hard process for me — something I have had to get used to just because I am small (5-foot-9, 175 pounds). I know I can take a hit.”
The past four years, it has been McClatcher who has been the star of the show — and Warner the one sitting in the grandstands, rooting on her son.
“He knows way more about football than I do,” Warner said. “It is helpful for me to know all the pains and injuries he goes through, and the psychology that comes with them. I know when and when not to talk to him, which is valuable. I don’t think a lot of moms do understand that.”
McClatcher’s high school career came to a close Saturday in the Eagles’ 17-10 loss at Newport of Bellevue in the Class 4A quarterfinals. And he gave followers one more head-shaking moment — hurdling over a standing defender during a run. In high school football, that is a penalty, and McClatcher’s run was wiped out.
“I am amazed as a fan myself,” Warner said. “From day one, he showed football instincts that were unbelievable to me — things that were not taught.”
Added McClatcher: “I just love the game a lot. I just like putting on a show for whoever watches us play.”