Michael McInerny is the 2013 Valley Roadrunner Athlete of the Year
McInerny will play football at the University of San Diego next fall.
June 26, 2013Smiling and out of breath, Michael McInerny picked himself up off the scorched grass at Imperial High School and tossed the ball to the referee.
The junior receiver had just sprinted through the 100-degree heat to beat his defender for a 68-yard touchdown that ended with a broken tackle and a tumble into the endzone.
Instead of heading back to the sideline for a well-deserved breather, McInerny did what he always did after he scored a touchdown.
He went out and kicked the extra point.
For two years, McInerny was the leading receiver for the Valley Center varsity football team and was among the league and section leaders in every receiving statistic.
But unlike most of his contemporaries, McInerny racked up all those gaudy numbers while filling the role of the team's kicker, a far cry, in terms of specific skills necessary, from that of a wide receiver.
And yet, the 2012 Valley League Offensive Player of the Year spent time practicing kickoffs, field goals, extra points, and sometimes even punts to answer his team's call.
Greatness is built on sacrifice, and in his time at Valley Center High School, Michael McInerny has laid a foundation of self-sacrifice big enough to hold a mansion of accolades.
Elite athletes, even at the high school level, are most often the product of specific areas of study. To be great at throwing a curveball, the prevailing thought of the day says, one must do nothing but throw curveballs. Versatility is a word often used as a verbal pat on the head; as if to say that a particular athlete isn't good enough at any one particular aspect of his sport, so he is forced to fall back on playing the positions that the great athletes don't want to play.
But in Valley Center, versatility is not only a desirable athletic trait—it's what separates the quality of this small school's athletic programs from those of the much larger schools in the county.
Michael McInerny shows off his many certificates and awards from his illustrious high school career.
McInerny is the epitome of this excellence in utility, an athlete who thrives on the challenge of being the best in every competition. From playing wide receiver, kicker, and sometimes even defensive back on the football field to leading the basketball team in assists, rebounds and steals, to anchoring the relay teams on the track, McInerny has chosen to use his athletic talents in a wide variety of sports, and at the same time has chosen to play for his teammates, his school and his community above playing for himself.
That sacrifice has made for some tough choices—passing up a family vacation to Hawaii to compete in the track team's CIF finals isn't something a lot of teenagers would even consider—but has also made for at least one flash-of-lightning moment of destiny.
"My freshman year, I was supposed to go on a snowboarding trip, but I decided to stay because it was football season and I didn't want to leave my teammates," McInerny explains. "I ended up getting pulled up to varsity the week I was supposed to be gone. I look back on that now and I think that I probably would have ended up playing JV if I had gone on that trip, instead of playing varsity as a sophomore."
And McInerny is no stranger to the sacrifices athletes have to make in order to play at a high level and be a part of a team.
"You do have to sacrifice some parts of your social life," he says. "There have been a lot of times where I want to go out and hang out with my friends, but I can't because I have a game at eight the next morning. I've missed out on a lot of family trips, like the graduation trip we were going to take to Hawaii, but I had CIF track at the same time. I felt a commitment to my team, and I didn't want to bail on those guys. You can't just go whenever you want to when you're part of a team."
Even though elite-level athletic competition requires sacrifice, McInerny says that sports are still fun, no matter what he's playing.
He grew up playing soccer, basketball, tennis and baseball—he even learned, at the encouragement of his mother, to be a switch-hitter—and added football and track, as well as dodge ball, to his resume in high school. He even finds the time to enjoy some fishing or hiking in between games, practices and training.
"Soccer and basketball are probably my favorites," he says. "I know I should probably say football, since that's what I'll be playing in college, but I love to watch soccer and basketball. Football is kind of like my job, but soccer and basketball are more like my hobbies. I love football, I love to play and I love the thrill of the competition. But it can be time-consuming, and you have to have a lot of respect for the game to play at a high level."
McInerny says that he has always appreciated the bond created in team sports—"On the football team, we called it a brotherhood," he says—but that he also enjoys the pressure and glory of individual sports as well.
"In track, when I'm running the four hundred, it's all on me," he says. "When I'm playing football, I can't play every position, I have to rely on my teammates and everyone has to play together as a team.
"I definitely love competition," he adds. "The pressure situations, when the game is on the line, I want the ball. It's all on you to make the shot or make the catch, to get the glory or feel the sorrow. I love clutch situations because I compete to win."
Playing sports in Valley Center has been an experience that McInerny says will stick with him no matter where his life may take him. He especially appreciates the opportunities he's had to participate in more than one sport at the varsity level, and that, contrary to the expected advice, he's glad his coaches encouraged him to pursue other athletic endeavors.
"I love that playing in VC meant that I had the opportunity to play several sports and that we're still able to compete against the big programs," he says. "Sometimes I wonder what I could have done at a division one program with four thousand kids, but you can't beat the small community. We only have twelve hundred kids but all our sports teams compete against the bigger schools. I'm going to miss being able to play so many sports because if I don't have sports to play, I get bored."
Before McInerny starts setting aside time to watch the paint dry, he says that he's also looking forward to the academic challenge that awaits in college. Part of his decision to attend the University of San Diego next fall was based on the USD football program's eye-poppingly high graduation rate, which hovers near the 98 percent mark.
"I've always had great teachers who have pushed me, and one thing that's cool about Valley Center is that you get to know the teachers personally," he says. "I'll always appreciate that they put up with me, and that if I come back to visit, I'm pretty sure they'll remember me. One of the reasons I was drawn to USD was that the average class size is sixteen to twenty students, so I'll be more familiar with my professors, not like some schools that have hundreds of kids in a single class."
McInerny plans to major in business with some kind of an emphasis in the world of sports, whether that comes in sports management or marketing, or any other field that keeps him close to the games he loves.
"I'm even choosing my major around sports because I don't want to leave the world of sports," he says. "I don't have a specific plan yet, but I'm going to go with the flow and when the time comes, I'll make that decision."
When he gets to college, McInerny says that he knows he can succeed in both athletics and academics because of the preparation he's gotten from his coaches and teachers.
"Valley Center has the best coaches around," he says. "Anytime [football coach Rob] Gilster gave one of his speeches, they always got me pumped up. All the football coaches push you, work with you and you have a relationship with all the coaches, even from the freshman team all the way up to varsity. That's really shaped me. Coach Purdy [basketball] and Coach Cummings [track], and every coach I've had from Little League all the way up, they've all been great."
As he prepares for college in the fall, McInerny says that he's inspired and motivated by one coach's simple message.
"At the end of the track season, when we were getting ready for league finals, Coach Gilster told us, 'Carpe Diem,' " he says. "For the kids who weren't going to CIF the next weekend, this was their last practice. He told us that we could have a screw-around practice on our last day, or we could work hard so that, when we look back, we can say we gave it our all. That's what I want to do every day."
Michael McInerny's 2012–13 season at VCHS included the following accolades.
Football: first team all Valley League, Valley League Offensive Player of the Year, Valley League Kicker of the Year, first team All North County, second team All CIF, second team All State Kicker, selected team MVP, set new career receptions record of 144 (breaking James Johnson's 139), set new single season receptions record of 85 (previous was 82, Reilly), racked up career yardage of 2704 (second to 2900 by James Johnson), had a career-best season yardage of 1442 (second to 1543 by James Johnson), led the county in receiving yards for the second consecutive season and led the county in receptions for 2012 at 85.
Basketball: (team stats) first in steals, first in rebounds, first in assists, second in total points. Imperial League Tournament Champion, Valley League Champion, 64/84 76% from free throws (led the team), 11 points per game (second to Brett Henderson).
Track: 400m Division II Champion, 400m League Champion, 4x400 Team League Champion, set school record in the 4x400 relay and was selected boys team MVP.
Michael McInerny is the son of Michael and Roxana McInerny of Valley Center.